A positive impact on art and culture in the eastern U.P.

“Potential is limited only to the imagination” at the Erickson Center for the Arts in Curtis, an unincorporated community in Mackinac County. 

The potential for this center for the arts began a couple of decades ago, when Richard Erickson and Harlan Maurer, both of whom had ties to the area, and community organizations saw a need to provide residents with more educational, cultural and physical activities.

Since the Erickson Center for the Arts (ECA) officially opened in 2008, there has been no limit to the imagination of what's offered at this important cultural center west of downtown Curtis, about 65 miles west of the Mackinac Bridge. 

Concerts, live music, children’s activities, movie nights and more draw residents from surrounding communities, including Newberry, Manistique and St Ignace.  Amenities, including nature trails and an outdoor ice rink, have been added over the years. 

Kelly Chamberlin“Annually, the ECA hosts over 150 events. Three of the four counties we serve are designated as underserved areas,” says Kelly Chamberlin, the ECA’s executive director.  “Through donations, grants and business sponsors we can provide free or low-cost events for our community. We also make a positive impact on art and cultural tourism to our area,”

History: The need for a place to offer cultural, artistic and physical activities was cemented during a meeting in the summer of 2002. The Curtis Community Arts Council (the name later changed to the Erickson Center for the Arts) was founded and organizers determined that securing property for a physical location was integral to their goal. A 40-acre tract on the west end of Curtis and owned by Clarence and Velma Walsh had been open for use by the community for years. Organizers deemed it an ideal location and began fundraising to purchase the property. A generous donation from Richard and Nancy Erickson, who spent much of their time together in Curtis, raising their family, secured the site.  A grand opening was held in June 2008.

About the center: Overlooking South Manistique Lake, the 3,200-square-foot center initially included a large open space, restrooms, storage areas and a kitchen. A capital campaign was launched to fund a second phase of development. The arts and education level opened in June 2012 and provides art classrooms and a cultural education gallery (displaying local artists’ work), studio space for guest artists, and an administrative office. Views of South Manistique Lake, spacious lawns, scenic flower gardens and 20 wooded acres offer additional aesthetics. More recently, the Pine Performance Center was built on the grounds after another successful fundraising campaign. The building houses a 160-seat theater, large stage and lobby and backstage dressing rooms. 

A Shakespeare production at the Pine Performance Center. Photo: Rachel BonacorsiFunding: Operating expenses are covered by donations, business sponsorships and grants. Recently, the Erickson Center for the Arts received a $11,250 Operational Support grant from the Michigan Arts and Cultural Council. The money covers costs associated with operations, projects, capital improvements, arts-in-education residences, services to the field, and regional re-granting initiatives.

The Nancy A. and Richard P. Erickson Foundation, a nonprofit organization with a focus on helping youth living in and around Curtis and supporting the arts, has been a major contributor over the years.  Funding has also come from the Michigan Non-Profit Relief Fund-Michigan Public Health Institute, and the Michigan Arts and Culture Council and National Endowment for the Arts.

Volunteers: The center has a small staff and an army of about 100 volunteers help with programming and activities.  "We are very dependent on volunteers, and we are very fortunate to have a good core of great volunteers. We are always looking to welcome more. All kinds of volunteer opportunities are available for all different skill levels from greeters and ticket takers to event preparations, set builders and tech support,” Kelly says.
A production of "Matilda" at the Pine Performance Center. Photo: Rachel BonacorsiWhat’s next: "The ECA organization continues to grow with the addition of the Pine Performance Center and opportunities that assist us to reach more people,” Kelly says.  “This year we are co-hosting two events, a concert and an exhibition with the Friends of Seney National Wildlife Refuge. Music in the Park concert series is a favorite summer-long event.”

Renovations are planned for the bandshell to create an “even better experience.” The center is also planning new and diverse programs and events, as well as outreach programs to local schools.

Calendar of events: Activities and programming vary throughout the year. For a calendar of activities, go to: Erickson Center for the Arts

Ann Dallman has lifelong roots in Michigan’s UP. She started out as a newspaper reporter/photographer and returned to journalism after retiring from teaching. Her first Middle Grade novel, Cady and the Bear Necklace, received a State History Award (Books/Youth) from the Historical Society of Michigan as well as a Midwest Book Award, New Mexico-Arizona Book Award, was a Next Generation Indie Book Award Finalist and a UP Notable Book. Her second book, Cady and the Birchbark Box, also received the Historical Society of Michigan State Award, is also a UP Notable Book and was a finalist in the New Mexico-Arizona 2023 Book Awards. 
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