Art Connects Midland bridges public art and a thriving community

If you are wandering around Midland this summer — whether it is a stroll along the Tridge, a trip to the library for summer reading or wandering through downtown on either Main or Ashman Street — you are likely to see some art along your path. Located all around both downtown, these pieces are part of a new public arts initiative in the city, Art Connects Midland.

The brainchild of several community organizations including the Midland Area Community Foundation, Captured Studios, Creative 360, the city of Midland, the Downtown Development Authority, Michigan Baseball Foundation and Midland Center for the Arts, Art Connects Midland is picking up steam in its second year. You can see the whole exhibit in this video from Live Oak Coffeehouse here.

The committee is made up of individuals representing these various organizations and other community partners and aims to find ways to make art accessible in everyday life. Art Connects Midland strives to increase the visibility, appreciation, and enjoyment of art in Midland by placing artwork pieces throughout the community for residents and visitors to enjoy.

“It is really meaningful to have art displayed in a place where it can live and breathe, and people can both view and interact with it,” says Sharon Mortensen CEO of the Midland Area Community Foundation. “It can cause strangers to strike up conversations; it can bring people together; it can create community that might not have been there before.”

Interactive letters spelling out the artistic effort displayed in Midland.

The public art committee formed out of a desire to bring engaging arts projects to the community. In 2017, inspired by the Detroit Institute of Arts “Inside Out” initiative. The committee launched the first outdoor public arts display in 2017 with the theme, Art Builds Midland. This year’s theme, Art Connects Midland, continues the tradition and features reproductions of artist work from all across the Tri-City and Great Lakes Bay region.

“I really like the theme this year — that art connects with all avenues of life,” says Julie Johnson, Director of Museums at the Midland Center for the Arts and art committee member. “No matter what you do, everyone has a different form of being creative, and this is a way to make that accessible.”

The exhibit features pieces from the Saginaw Art Museum, local studios such as Studio 23 in Bay City and Creative 360, students in the Juvenile Care Center (JCC)’s photography program and the Midland Historical Society among many others.

Students art displayed in Live Oak Coffeehouse in Midland.

“It’s a great opportunity to showcase local talent and the youth perspective,” says Nicole Wilson, program manager at the Midland Baseball Foundation and lead in the JCC component of the exhibit. “Each image is a carefully selected and a unique snapshot into the experience of a young person in our community. Through these photos, we see a little bit of what they are seeing.”

There are upwards of forty framed photos from students on display inside the Midland Center for the Arts and Live Oak Coffeehouse and the JCC exhibit starts on June 30.

The rest of the art pieces are positioned outside, along various biking and walking paths throughout the city. These are available for residents to scope out twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

Student profiles are listed as part of the many different exhibits.

“The most exciting thing to me is how much variety there is. We have everything from paintings from local artists all over the region to photographs from youth at the JCC. We have timeless photos of city from the Midland Historical Society,” adds Mortensen. “I can’t pick just one favorite, I really love seeing all of them; it is a fascinating collection, curated in a special and thoughtful way.”

Local art displayed throughout Downton Midland as a part of Art Connects Midland.

Launched on June 1, the exhibit will stay up through Labor Day. Pieces are scattered throughout the city, on walking routes along the major streets, at signature institutions and even hosted by small businesses.

“Another part of our idea was finding something that could get people out and about,” adds Mortensen. “This is great because the biking and walking routes connect Midtown to the Midland Center for the Arts and Dow Gardens area to Downtown Midland and the Tridge. People can take a day to explore the city and find artwork along the way.”

Live Oak Coffeehouse is a Midtown catalyst for development and a business which has opened its doors to the initiative. They are hosting a number of photographs from the JCC inside their building, and have even commissioned a mural by regional artist, and art teacher, Mark Piotrowski.

“I love art and all the ways it gives beauty, hope, joy and voice to us,” says Renee Deckrow, owner at Live Oak. “I also love shared experiences, and the Art Connects Midland initiative brings both those loves together in a powerful way that involves the community.”

Renee Deckrow, owner of Live Oak Coffeehouse and art committee board member.

Deckrow heard of regional muralist, Mark Piotrowski at one of the Midland Public Arts committee meetings. Enthralled by his use of color and movement, she reached out to him about painting something for the outside of her business in midtown. While not a part of Art Connects Midland specifically, it is another example of the power that art has in making a community enjoyable, vibrant and unique.

Piotrowski is an art teacher at Western High School in Bay City, and runs his small business, MARKed Arts, on the side. His work can be found at other locations around town as well, namely the colorful and detailed mural on the columns under the US-10 bridge over Saginaw Road in Midland.

“Public art is kind of like those MasterCard commercials, it’s priceless,” says Piotrowski. “It livens up spaces, brings color into previously dead areas, brightens things up and allows people to interact with those spaces in a new and unique way. People come out and see public art.”

Mark Piotrowski of MARKed Art is creating the new mural at Live Oak Coffeehouse.

On Tuesday, June 26, a listening session was held at Live Oak Coffeehouse as part of the initiative to gauge feedback to the pieces and recommendations for future installations. Several community and committee members filled the room at Live Oak as individuals shared their input and visions for future public art in Midland. Many mentioned the importance of public art reaching people who may not otherwise see different forms of creativity, and that the visibility of the pieces, as well as ways to engage with the a growing art scene in Midland.

Some expressed hope that the art community would continue to evolve and create ways for art to be publicly available. The growth of Midland as an artistic community was discussed, including spurring interest by meeting local artists at an event or interacting with them would provide additional motivation, as would curated tours, both of which Midland may see in the future.

The side of Live Oak Coffeehouse transforms with the mural currently underway.

To learn more about where each of the art pieces are located, as well as a bit of history behind each one, Art Connect Midland has put together a handy digital map. Physical copies of the map are also available at partnering institutions and venues. Each piece of artwork on display also contains a QR code, which can be scanned to learn more about the image and the artist behind it, as well as the Art Connects initiative.

Art Connects Midland would love to hear from you as the program grows. Share your experiences and adventures on social media with the hashtag #ArtConnectsMidland.
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