Leaving a mark: How can Port Huron build a thriving arts community?

Art comes in all shapes and sizes
When it comes to creating a supporting a creative arts community, what do you imagine? Is it a city full of museums? Outdoor sculptures? Programs and events dedicated to local artists? All of the above?

The Port Huron region seems to be doing a good job in bringing art to its residents, as well as promoting their art work, but what more can be done to push it to the next level?

The Keel's next Community Conversation will focus on just that: Building a thriving arts and culture scene in the Blue Water region.

The event will feature a cross-regional discussion between leaders and change makers in the arts scenes of Port Huron and Grand Rapids. It takes place from 5 to 7:30 p.m. April 18 at Studio 1219, 1219 Military St., in downtown Port Huron.

The panel features St. Clair native Gina Panoff, executive director of Studio 1219, arts advocate Jenn Schaub who has a focused interest in helping creative communities grow, and Elyse Marie Welcher, founder of Littlewings Designs and co-founder of Parliament the Boutique in Grand Rapids. She is an entrepreneur and designer.

Panelists will share their stories about the importance of art in their communities and the impact having strong culture creates across a region.

Panoff says the arts in Port Huron are kind of a "hidden gem," but the culture is definitely here and growing.

Art is integral to every communityThe discussion will be moderated by Marysville resident Jason Stier who is very active in the Blue Water area arts community and is currently president of the St. Clair Art Association.

Stier has always had a passion for the arts, and says it takes a village of people to create a vibrant and thriving arts culture.
He is hopeful that St. Clair County communities can work together to grow the arts across the region.

Having a strong and supportive arts district requires a clear vision and a collective commitment in order to leverage the arts and cultural activities in a way that creates a unique identity, irresistible draw, and sense of individuality within a community. Stier says.

"It requires creative thinkers, effective leaders, and the investment of individuals, businesses, and organizations at every stage of development from concept, to implementation, to preservation of our artistic efforts."

A flourishing arts community also helps neighborhoods move forward, Stier says.

"It is the ripples of our history, our people, and our unique place that continuously flow toward something grander," he says. "Arts and culture are a reflection of who we are and what impact we have on the world in which we live. It creates a sense of energy like none other. It is a powerful network of human potential, life experiences, passion and potential that helps us all feel whole."

Last summer, Stier helped organize a community-wide block project for the city of St. Clair, he wanted to organize a project that would bring people together, and unite them. It was quite a hit with residents.

Stier says collaboration is important to help boost the arts across the Blue Water region. He says that many cities and towns are pushing forth their own efforts, but teaming up and working toward one goal could really help everyone succeed.

"By developing stronger networks and vehicles for communication we are able to connect the dots, combine efforts and resources, and accomplish greater goals and projects that have a greater overall impact on our region," he says.

Panoff agrees that collaboration is key. Right now, there are several businesses in downtown Port Huron that display the works of local artists. Panoff would like to see more of that, as well as more advertising of art-related events.

But most of all, people need to be open to the arts and be willing to share their talents with the community.

There is a large presence of the arts and artists who want to be a huge part of the community, Panoff says. At Studio 1219, there are about 150 Thumb and Blue Water area artists on display just waiting for people to discover their work.

The panelists believe local arts are on the cusp of something big, and a little push could help it reach the next step, with Wednesday's dialogue being an integral part.

The Community Conversation will explore these ideas and discuss why a strong arts culture is important to region.
This is event is free and open to the public, get tickets today.

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