Blog: Jenny Callans

Jennifer Callans, Ph.D., joined the Anton Art Center as executive director three years ago. She oversees marketing, fundraising, administration and more, working with a small but dedicated staff and a committed corps of volunteers. Previously, Jenny worked for ORT Michigan in Bloomfield Hills.

Jenny has a Ph.D. in sociocultural anthropology from Stony Brook University (New York) and did her field research in Japan, where she focused on visual identity. At the Anton Art Center, Jenny is putting her anthropological mindset to good use as she tries to ensure the center not only supports artists, but becomes a source of pride for the community it serves – Mount Clemens and all of Macomb County.

She serves on the boards of the Kiwanis Club of Mount Clemens and the Mount Clemens Foundation, and is an active member of the Advisory Council of Kresge Arts in Detroit and the Membership Committee of the Cultural Alliance of Southeast Michigan. 

Jenny lives with her husband, sons, and dog within walking distance of work. When she's not working, she's probably reading something (books, comics, magazines, newspapers), watching something (movies, TV), or planning a trip!

Jenny Callans - Most Recent Posts:

Post 3: An Itty-Bitty Art Show

Alfred Taubman's concept of "threshold resistance" applies to arts organizations just as to retailers:  If people have the perception that a business is out of their price range, they're less likely to step inside and spend money.  Likewise, galleries, art museums and art centers struggle to attract new visitors and patrons because of a belief by some that fine art is intimidating, or incomprehensible, or requires special training to enjoy.

Most art centers combat threshold resistance by taking art out into the community – via Art in Public Places programs, community beautification initiatives, and by hosting events such as art fairs.  

Ultimately, though, we hope to get people across that threshold and into the art center itself, because that's the best way to develop a relationship with the community we serve.  Once inside, they'll see the center's gift shop, featuring work by Michigan artists; they might peek in on a painting or clay class; and of course, they'll see the exhibitions in the Main Galleries, the Petitpren Community Gallery and the Boll History Gallery.

Exhibition coordinator Alison Wong works with a volunteer committee of metro Detroit artists (Sarah Burger, Kelly Frank, Scott Michalski and Benjamin Teague) to plan an exhibition schedule that is balanced but challenging.  

In April 2011, look for Cabinet, which will feature displays of works collected by the center's Exhibition Committee, in order to give visitors to the center a sense of the committee's aesthetic.  Artists whose work will be on exhibit will be invited to auction off studio visits, with the proceeds benefiting the artists themselves.  Cabinet will include a collaboration with Meadow Brook Hall in the Boll History Gallery, also on the theme of collecting.  

In addition to giving regular visitors a feel for how the Exhibition Committee works, Cabinet is intended to explore the very idea of what makes an art collection, so that viewers can think about what kind of a collection engages them, and perhaps then take the step of making a purchase.  Imagine: View a show about collecting, snag a studio visit as a result, and perhaps make a purchase.  All those thresholds crossed – gallery, studio, home – as a result of a single exhibition.

We'll build on that with a size-limited, open call show in the fall.  Untitled as of yet, works that do not exceed 6" in any direction will be accepted.  The exhibition will be open to all artists 18 and older.  Based on past experience with our postcard-themed shows, the Exhibition Committee expects to receive work from all over the world, in all media, and any work that meets the guidelines (to be announced in early 2011) will be accepted.

One goal of this 6x6x6 show is to give as many artists as possible an opportunity to exhibit.  Another target, though, is to carry on the collecting theme – because most of the work will be priced for sale.  Come in, peruse itty-bitty works in all media, and perhaps take something home, without worrying where it will fit or if it will break the bank!

That personal relationship with art is what we hope to cultivate, and part of what our Founding Mothers hoped to promote when they founded the center in 1969.  Art is an individual means of expression, it helps people communicate, and gives communities a sense of identity.  Isn't it worth a little time and money to reap such dividends?

Post 2: It Takes a Community to Stencil a Storm Drain

A great many art centers - including the Anton Art Center - were founded in the 1960s and 70s by volunteers who wanted better access to the arts, right in their own communities.  Cities and townships have often donated or loaned buildings to these groups so that they'd have a physical home.  Because all those involved understand the value of an art center -- and the arts in general -- in building a cohesive community.

Or, at least, that's the theory.  Because the other side of this coin is all the people who walk through the center's door looking for the Mount Clemens Public Library (which moved in 1967), or who find their way into the center and say, "Wow, I never knew this was here!" (The Art Center was founded in 1969 and is on a very visible, high-traffic street corner). 

But even those who don't know about their nearest art center benefit from its existence.  The Anton Art Center, for example, runs a youth leadership program in partnership with our local school district.  We run Healing Arts classes at three area hospitals.  We administer the city's Art in Public Places program, maintaining several sculptures placed throughout downtown.  

Much of the Anton Art Center's programming is typical of art centers in general.  As community-based institutions, usually serving a county or a portion of a metropolitan area, art centers are part of a movement that takes multiple perspectives, multiple voices, and unites them into one whole.  Few fields are better than the arts at integrating disparate factions, or if not integrating them, then getting them to understand each other's points of view.  

But this doesn't happen overnight and it takes engagement with the community, and support by the community – time and money.  

Take a simple project at the Anton Art Center:  storm drains "Dump no waste; drains to river" and decorating them with aquatic life.  This requires paint and brushes, stencils, and some paint smocks.  The project is done in the street, so we need traffic cones and reflective vests for protection.  Fliers have to be delivered door-to-door so that neighborhood residents know why there are groups of people out painting the street.  If it happens to be hot the day of the painting, we try to supply water and snacks.  

A guerrilla arts group would just go out and stencil the drains.  But being a symbol of the community means toeing the line sometimes, and that's not a bad thing.  Because then the people of that same community stop by to admire the work everyone's doing, or someone brings out a plate of cookies to pass around.  

Post 1: Perspectives on Arts Funding

Metro Detroiters will probably vote soon on a property tax initiative to provide some funding to one of our region's anchor institutions, the Detroit Institute of Arts.  Many of us feel that residents should share in supporting cornerstones such as the DIA – otherwise, what defines us as a community?  We need more than shared geography to be whole, and the making and consuming of art is one of the defining characteristics of humanity.

But tax funding can only be one piece of the funding picture for the DIA.  We always hear about the need for a diverse portfolio when investing, and that's true of just about any scenario.  Diversity creates opportunity, it allows for change and adaptability.

And if there's one thing metro Detroit has in spades, it's diversity.  That can help us as we try to rebuild our region, and the arts can play a large part.  Art communicates on a fundamental level, beyond the frameworks of language, religion, politics, and nationality.  

We've all heard that a thriving art scene attracts young people, and that artists can help turn around urban decay.  But so what?  When we have so many significant infrastructural needs in metro Detroit, when schools are in trouble, when roads are in disrepair, when there's such a gaping hole in social services, who needs art and why is it worth funding?  After all, the arts can pay their own way - by charging for admission, by selling goods and merchandise, and so on.  

Again, that earned income can be only one piece of the funding puzzle.  The Anton Art Center is typical in having a mix of income streams.  About half the center's income is earned:  gift shop sales, class registrations, art fair booth sales.  Grants and corporate sponsorships each account for about 20% of the center's annual budget.  Memberships make up the rest. 

This means that almost every aspect of the center's operations is relying on a lot of different pieces to stay afloat.  There's no "pay dirt", not one aspect of our programming that could pay the way for everything else. 

For an art center, that's reasonable.  We're here for the community, because of the community, and therefore we need to have a diverse slate of programs that address different needs.  Some of these programs are self-sustaining, and some will never be.  The members, donors and sponsors who support us know that and want to do their part to ensure that the center's entire slate survives.

In fact many, perhaps even most, of the Anton Art Center's members don't consider themselves art patrons or art lovers.  That can be a discouraging realization.  But these same people support the center because it's a point of pride for the community, a positive center of collective identity.

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