AuSable Artisan Village poised to expand

Downtown Grayling isn’t known as an arts, culture, and events destination, but the Ausable Artisan Village (AAV) is hoping to change that.

The retail art gallery houses 50-plus artists, has a stage for concerts and live performances, and hosts classes and workshops for all ages. The venue also aims to build culture in Northern Michigan and is considered a major development in the revitalization of downtown Grayling.

"The mission of AuSable Artisan Village is to initiate and support art and cultural activities that enrich lives, and fuel the economic and creative development of the Grayling community and the greater Northern Michigan region," says Terry Dickinson, the organization's executive director.

The nonprofit hopes to do so on an even larger scale, with its plans for expansion. In order to facilitate that growth, the organization last month launched a Patronicity fundraiser to seek community support.

The largely volunteer organization asked the community to pitch in via its Patronicity fundraising campaign. The artisan organization hoped to raise $50,000 to transform a vacant historic building downtown into a performing arts center and a clay/ceramic studio and fine art gallery retail space.

That goal has been met and then some.

"We reached our goal last week with still 12 days left on our campaign. This truly exceeded our expectations," says Radel Rosin, the nonprofit's assistant director. "We are currently still seeing support for our campaign as of now we raised $54,600."
Executive Director Terry Dickinson shares the AuSable Artisan Village's future plans.
By reaching that goal, the organization will receive matching dollars from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation's Public Spaces Community Places program. That program will match each gift dollar-for-dollar, meaning the center will have raised not just $50,000, but $100,000 towards its expansion.

“Revitalizing a formerly vacant space into a community center for creativity will bring vibrancy and cultural opportunities to downtown Grayling, and represents one of the highest forms of placemaking,” Paula Holtz, managing director of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation's Regional Prosperity, said in a release. “We are pleased to support and provide resources for this project to complete the space through our Public Spaces Community Places program.”

At its inception in 2010, the artisan center had two main goals: to be an economic driver in a blighted downtown Grayling and to provide an arts and cultural environment to enhance the quality of life in the greater region. With those things, the center hoped to be able to retain young professionals, a demographic that has been fleeing the region. 

Following a 2019 Appreciative Enquiry Session with key stakeholders, artists, donors, volunteers, community groups, businesses and city personnel, the AAV formulated a five-year strategic plan. The latest focus is on expanding art class offerings and developing a performing arts center, to further support the vibrancy and economic sustainability of the area. 

The center’s operations have outgrown its space and continue to grow. During the first year of business in 2011, the retail gallery had nearly $50,000 in sales. In 2023, the store anticipates more than $200,000 in sales.

It’s not uncommon for attendance at community theater, concerts and improv comedy shows to be at capacity each night. Current programming includes Michigan-based gallery displays, art education for all ages, bi-monthly comedy troupe performances, free and ticketed concerts, and an international juried art exhibition. 

“Because we are currently over capacity in our current performing arts venue, we have purchased a second building to expand our audience capacity from around 60-80 to 175-200,” Dickinson says. “The new building is approximately 6,000 square feet and will also become home to a clay/ceramic studio and gift shop. The studio and gift shop in the storefront will be open to the public seven days a week, which will add activity and vitality to the downtown. The performing arts center will bring hundreds of patrons to the downtown several times a month.”

The 100-plus-year-old historic building with original tin ceilings and hardwood floors will be transformed into a 2,000-square-foot performing arts center, featuring state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems. 

Given the AAV’s central location, between a restaurant and brew pub, the center benefits from the current foot traffic of people looking for things to do. With expansion plans, the AAV will provide even more opportunities for residents and visitors alike to experience and participate in arts-related workshops, classes, and events. 

The fundraising campaign was launched on June 13. 

“Patronicity is a Michigan-based platform that partners with a sponsor to allow qualified programs to crowdfund and grant-match,” he says. “For our program, the matching grant will come from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. We have set a goal of crowdfunding $50,000 in a 45-day period."

"These funds will allow us to create a 2,000-square-foot performing arts space with state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems. As much as possible, we are tearing out multiple layers of remodeling to reveal the original beauty of this 100-plus-year-old historic building including the original tin ceilings and hardwood floors."

Dickinson says the Grayling community has been very supportive of the AAV since its inception, although it’s hard to pinpoint a single answer to its success.

He credits the location at the apex of Interstate 75 and U.S. Route 127, and two major rivers and several lakes as well as being home to an arts and culture-driven population. He is also grateful for the leadership, an experienced board of directors and committed volunteers who connected regional artists and makers with the rest of the community. 

He anticipates that same support from nearby small business owners, city officials, residents and visitors in its next phase. The ultimate goal, Dickinson says, is “that Grayling becomes a haven for artists and known across the nation as an art and cultural destination.”
Sarah Spohn is a Lansing native, but every day finds a new interesting person, place, or thing in towns all over Michigan, leaving her truly smitten with the mitten. She received her degrees in journalism and professional communications and provides coverage for various publications locally, regionally, and nationally — writing stories on small businesses, arts and culture, dining, community, and anything Michigan-made. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at
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