Arts community eager to push creativity, culture to next level

Local leaders are inspired to do something more to give a strong push to the community, and really boost the arts in the Port Huron region.


One of the key ways to do that, according to a cross-regional panel of art activists, is to increase awareness of local artists, Gina Panoff is eager to help push the arts forward.and really promote the programs and projects going on in the area. They also believe more collaboration across the county on art projects and events will really move things forward.


During the Keel's second Community Conversation, speakers from St. Clair County, as well as the Grand Rapids area shared their thoughts on helping artists grow and thrive.


GIna Panoff, executive director of downtown Port Huron's Studio 1219, said her goal is to help the art community grow and thrive by sharing it with everyone.


The gallery not only displays the work of local artists, it hosts various arts courses and events throughout the year. As the largest primary art gallery in the Thumb region, Studio 1219 has big role in promoting local artists.


While many are familiar with ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, panelists Jenn Schaub and Elyse Marie Welcher say what has really helped artists in west Michigan is the creation of artist work-live spaces. It started with Martineau Apartments in 2005, and features nearly 40 affordable,quality housing with an open floor plan. Demand continues to climb as artists search for creative ways to make a living.


"It was a major transformation," Schaub says.


Dwelling Place invested in greatly under-used space on South Division in Grand Rapids, according to Schaub, and the rest is history.Jason Stier, Elyse Marie Welch, Jenn Schaub and Gina Panoff talk about the importance of a strong art culture.
For some, Schaub says, while art is their passion, it must stay a hobby, because bills have to be paid. But the income-driven properties have made it easier to turn those passions into a full-time business.
Welcher is one of those artists who started her own business out of one of the work-live spaces. It was a blessing for her as she worked to pursue her passion and build her self-funded business Littlewings Designs. Within 18 months, she was outgrowing her space and looking for a storefront.


"The process has established a culture," Welcher says. More and more aspiring artists are looking to the area to pursue their passions.


The area is now known as Avenue for the Arts and visitors are encouraged to check out the businesses, as well as public art in the area. It also made art, and investing in art, accessible to a wider audience.
Growing audience and expanding art outreach are top priorities for those in the arts community.


Jason Stier, president of the St. Clair Art Association says accessibility is very important. Everyone needs to be able to share their talents.


Schaub agrees that there needs to be opportunities for anyone who wants to create.Elyse Marie Welch and Jenn Schaub of Grand Rapids discuss how artist live-work apartments helped transform a neighborhood.


And those creators need to be supported by the community, Panoff says.


Those who enjoy art, need to come out and show support for local artists at events and showings, and realize that there is value in the work being created.


Stier and Panoff agree that the Blue Water area arts could be boosted with a deliberate show of support and strong investment in artists and their futures.


So what's next when it comes to building a better arts culture? It starts with giving access to art, and encouraging young artists to create. It continues with sharing events and opportunities with the community, and it thrives with dedicated support from everyone.

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