Kalamazoo's Starlite Collective welcomes a constellation of diverse artists and artisans

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan's Second Wave's On the Ground Kalamazoo series.

KALAMAZOO, MI — Kalamazoo's art scene is becoming increasingly welcoming and accessible, as evidenced by a growing number of studios and collaborators who aim to break down barriers to the arts. Another recent addition is the Starlite Collective, a group of over 120 creatives of varying skills and mediums whose main intention is to generate a supportive and uplifting arts-forward community, says Starlite Founder Val Birch.

During the middle of the pandemic, Birch saw a need for a vehicle in which artists and artisans could come together for support and sharing resources, particularly for selling their work. 

The Starlite Collective has over 120 current members.“I think it would be absolutely impossible to pick one or two" reasons why the collective was formed, says Birch. "We're passionate about so much.

“Some of our main concerns to approach are accessibility, learning and education, connecting established artists with new and incoming artists, creating a stepping stone for beginning creators, safe, inclusive market space for any creative medium or experience level, equity and equality, information sharing, transparency, and eliminating gatekeeping.”

On the Ground Kalamazoo's Casey Grooten captured these images at the Winter Wonder Art Mart in early December. Starlite Collective will hold its next Mini (art) Mart from March 1 to 3 and its annual spring Art Mart from May 2 to 4 and 9 to 11. For more information, check the Collective’s Facebook, Instagram, or website

The tables inside Studio 209 were packed with glittering goods ready for bustling holiday shoppers. There were items of all different sizes and price points from prints, stickers, and buttons, to clothing, paintings, jewelry, and even furniture. When planning the formation of their collective, Birch and co-business owner Erica Bradshaw wanted to choose a name that captured the essence of magical and interconnected things that already exist (like outer space), so the name Starlite came about naturally. 

“The stars are all connected, one big body of untouchable balls of light millions of years old. I wanted people to be able to be stars and know they hold their own potential to shine bright just like our sky when we look up. Hence our motto: 'You Hold the Light,'" says Birch. Both TSC partners occupy studios located in the Park Trades Center, but have outgrown the spaces. Starlite now utilizes the Saniwax Gallery at Park Trades Center to host the Art Mart. 

All through the studio stained glass pieces from Kalamazoo Art Glass reflected the holiday lights hung from the rafters in the space. Starlite Collective members interact and support each other virtually, with one or two coffee shop meetups during the year. The group hopes to organize more in-person meetings in the future for the over 120 creatives that call Starlite home. Starlite recently added a broadcast channel on Instagram, as well as their pre-existing group chats, that are used to directly share information.

“There is an effort from everyone to create a supportive space,”  says Birch. Starlite members include local art businesses Avery Kae Studios, Cargo Creates, Charming Divination, Designs by Val Thompson, Clay Dragon Corner, Herbal Meadows Botanical, Morbid Moss, Notions of Lovely, and Everlinked Jewelry, among many others.

Kalamazoo TSC artist Olivia Mendoza creates realistic illustrations of plant, animal, and insect life. At the Winter Wonder Market in December, Mendoza’s designs were available in sticker form from this vending machine. “Every Art Mart we host has a certain percentage of new vendors, some of them being their first time. I am emotional and excited that every time we do this, new creatives are welcomed with open arms by everyone in TSC and they themselves seem excited to be a part of something new and uplifting.”

“We are often thanked, and though I am grateful for all the kind words, there is no collective without them. We are here to hold space; but our members are the ones to fill it.” 

Val Birch (left) formed The Starlite Collective during the first year and a half of the Covid-19 pandemic, and Erica Bradshaw (right) took on full partnership in 2023. Check The Starlite Collective’s Facebook, Instagram, or website for more information.
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Read more articles by Casey Grooten.

Casey Grooten is a Kalamazoo native who lived in the Vine and Stuart neighborhoods for over a decade and graduated from WMU with a Bachelors in English. Casey lives in Kalamazoo and spends their free time making artwork and music. Casey is passionate about social justice and equity, transgender rights, community events, and the arts.