Art culture adds to a sense of place in Marquette

"Beauty is one of the things that bring people here," says Beth Millner, a jewelry artist who owns a studio in downtown Marquette. To her, the beauty is part of the reason why the art culture in Marquette is growing and becoming integral to life--and the local economy--in this area.

Walking through downtown Marquette, it's impossible to peruse the businesses without seeing the impact of local artists. There are certainly a number of galleries, but other businesses also display art. Take, for instance, the Marquette Baking Company. Each month an artist is featured, and the medium can range from visual art to sculpture. So while a shopper picks up a croissant, he or she can see what a local artist has been working on.

Michael LaTulip, whose work is currently up in the bakery until the end of the month, is also the person who organizes these mini-exhibits.

The bakery is one of many atypical galleries in town. And LaTulip says this is encouraging to the artistic community in the area.

"It tells people that there is an opportunity that they can exhibit their work," he says. "They don't have to go very far to get fame."

Like many artists in the area, including Millner, LaTulip gets inspiration for his work from the Upper Peninsula environment: He takes Lake Superior as the subject of many paintings.

Besides all of the opportunities for exhibiting and collaborating with local businesses, Marquette also offers inspiration for creativity for many artists.

There are a number of artist initiatives in the area that are illustrating local talent. Tiina Harris, community services manager of the Arts and Culture Center in Marquette, says they include the Zero Degrees Artist Cooperative, Art on the Rocks, Oasis Gallery, Outback Art Fair and the Glacier Glide.

What also keeps artists in this area isn't just the opportunity to show in galleries and the beauty of the environment but the ability to make money outside of local sales. The internet makes it possible for anyone, anywhere in the world to find art made in the Upper Peninsula. Millner sells her artwork on Etsy, a website where people sell handmade or repurposed goods. And she has sent her work to almost every continent except, maybe, Africa, she says. For a while she even had a wholesale client in Israel. None of this would be possible without internet sales.

Selling in local businesses and online, people from near and far can buy U.P. art. LaTulip says the bakery sees a lot of out-of-town business, and often they'll look at or even buy the art on the walls. He recently sold a painting to a woman from Montana who wanted to remember her time in the U.P.  

At the same time, local people benefit from buying U.P. art. Ben Argall, a landscape painter in Ishpeming, says he recently sold a pendant of one of his prints that shows a picnic area near Teal Lake. The woman who bought it said she was proposed to in that space.  

"She bought one of my pendants because of that," Argall says.

Local artists also stay connected to one another through the internet. Millner created a Facebook group called "U.P. Artists" and added 50 of her artist friends. It now reaches a few hundred people, and she says it has been helpful in connecting art curators and individuals to collaborate, and create an artist community.

Argall, who often paints white birch trees and environmental scenes from the area, also says the artist community is strong. He's been with an Ishpeming frame shop for more than 13 years, and often has talked to Milner for help with his new studio, Blue Mohawk Studio.

"We are very supporting of each other," he says. "We're there with the business side to bounce ideas off of and it works very well."

In February, Argall opened a studio in Ishpeming's Pioneer Square, which is becoming a sort of artist's community itself. In the building is another painter besides Argall, a man who creates custom long bows, and Michele Dugree with Revisions Design Studio. Though the location doesn't see much foot traffic, Argall says the artists in this building sustain themselves with online sales. But he's excited now to have a location where people can interact with him and see his work in person. He says this lends itself to the cultural interest in homemade goods.

"People want those handmade things, repurposed items. I think people like to meet somebody who creates a product and then they can have a connection to that artist. They want a piece of art once they get to know you and have a story behind that piece that they buy," Argall says.

All of these things lend themselves to a growing art culture around Marquette. Harris says it's the art culture in Marquette that make this a wonderful place to live for everyone, not just the artists.

"It's the immense arts and culture offerings available that are integral to the high quality of life in Marquette. Museums, galleries, art fairs, festivals, concerts, dance and theater provide Marquette with a culturally rich environment necessary for a thriving artist community," Harris says. "This is one artist's community to keep an eye on."

Lucy Hough is in the English master's program at Northern Michigan University.

Photos by Shawn Malone.
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