Artown Celebrates Three Years of Successful Collaboration
By Mary Ellen Jones
Location: Alpena, Michigan
Northeast Michigan is on the road to becoming an arts and cultural destination along US 23. In three years, 75 individual artists, councils, galleries, historical societies, theaters, museums, dance studios, musicians, writers, lecture series, libraries, and concert series have been identified. What started as a small, informal committee of individuals interested in a grassroots promotion of arts and culture blossomed into Michigan Arts and Culture Northeast (MACNE), a 501c6 nonprofit corporation with a $20,000 grant from Michigan Municipal League and the city of Alpena.
Our celebration included Dr. Julie Avery, recently retired curator of Rural Life and Culture at the MSU Museum, returning to the region to lead a second roundtable discussion on where we started, what we’ve achieved, and how to drive economic development through arts and culture. Avery commented, “Most counties don’t have this richness of diversity in the arts. It is a huge asset.” Suggestions toward future collaboration include: engaging more youth in the arts; branding the region when it comes to the arts; creating an arts festival similar to ArtPrize in Grand Rapids; “colorizing” or eliminating blighted areas in our communities with visible art installations; educating the public on the importance of the arts and its’ long-lasting value; and expanding and improving the MACNE website.
ARTown projects include a variety of hands-on creative and cultural experiences—currently there are four scrims (art and photography printed on all-weather fabric for enormous outdoor displays) of historic photographs installed on the Royal Knight Theater building.
If you hear “arts and culture” and Alpena or Northeast Michigan doesn't come to mind, think again! Arts, culture, and history have an enduring presence in Northeast Michigan, and MACNE-ARTown Michigan is evidence of that. This nonprofit corporation is led by Besser Museum for NE Michigan, Art in the Loft, Thunder Bay Arts Council, and Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Sparked by the Michigan Municipal League’s Center for 21st Century Communities (21c3) pilot project (see page 30), the city of Alpena became a formal partner in MACNE, which also includes 44+ other organizations and individual artists from around the region. Through their powerful collaboration they are accomplishing what one group could not do alone.
Passport to the Arts
MACNE’s flagship project is an actual passport that serves as a comprehensive regional arts/culture calendar for nearly 200 events/activities in the summer season. The kick-off event began with a progressive dinner and entertainment with patrons visiting all four nonprofits. For the public—the passport program is a contest: 10 stamps of attendance are required to be eligible for a grand prize to an arts and cultural destination (NY in 2009, Mackinac Island in 2010, and ArtPrize in 2011). For our partners—the passport program is an opportunity to market events collectively, to create excitement around a summer program for the public, and to collaborate with other arts and culture businesses, individuals, and venues. Partners join for a fee of $100 and receive cross-promotional posters, brochures, and press releases all branded with the ARTown logo. Partnerships with our local media gave us a weekly presence with The Alpena News’ “Where Art Thou” contest, numerous articles on our events and MACNE in general. Alpena 52’s online events calendar highlighted our weekly events and devoted an entire magazine to Passport.
Our website is a communication hub for myriad arts, culture, humanities, and history organi-zations in the region, and a mechanism to collectively promote programs and events. The Alpena County Public Library gifted us the initial design of our website, and the League grant enabled us to set aside a fund to update and maintain it. In 2010, MACNE contracted with a local web designer to ‘go green’ and allow our partners to register, pay, and upload their events directly into an online passport calendar. Our goal is to have our partners take ownership of the website and become true collaborative partners. The calendar is fluid—it can be corrected, and events may be added or canceled. Some of the issues we faced with the paper passport were schedule changes—once we published the passport, we were done for the season. Now, with an electronic calendar of events, the passport becomes a year-round, downloadable document for the public to customize as needed for a day, a week, or month-long trip to the region.
The ARTrail Roadmap
The Artrail Roadmap is a locally designed and printed regional roadmap and reference guide highlighting 44 arts, culture, natural resources, historical sites and related attractions along the US 23 corridor from Standish to Mackinaw City. This beautiful, stylized laminated map was created for tourists. Visitors can pick it up at all 14 Michigan Welcome Centers, and Regional Chambers and Convention and Visitor Bureaus across the state. Our goal is to show visitors there are clusters of arts and cultural sites along US 23.
Community Expressions is a variety of hands-on creative and cultural experiences for the community including the installation of building scrims (art and photography is printed on all weather fabric for enormous outdoor displays). Currently there are four scrims of old historic photographs of downtown Alpena installed on the Royal Knight Theater building. MACNE also sponsored and announced the winner of a public contest to produce an additional building wrap covering a blank wall of a downtown building. This beautiful chalk pastel rendering of artist Brooke Stevens’ vibrant downtown is rich in the arts. Her winning drawing will be installed in the spring.
MACNE did not re-invent the wheel. All of these diverse arts and cultural assets have been in the community for years. We simply joined forces, came up with a solid plan to collaborate on a shared project, and promoted these assets for our local community and beyond. These projects, including the Passport program, can be easily duplicated in your community.
Go to artownmichigan.org or pick up an ARTrail Roadmap and next time you’re on the east side, take the slow route along our beautiful coastline and experience the arts and cultural gems that make up US 23.
The Michigan Municipal League identified eight essential assets that make communities vibrant places in the 21st century. Research shows that physical design & walkability, green initiatives, cultural economic development, entrepreneurship, multiculturalism, messaging & technology, transit, and education are essential to a community’s livelihood.
Experts agree that investing in communities is one of the most critical elements of any long-term economic development strategy. We believe this is especially true in Michigan, and that "place" matters more than ever.
To prove it, we began our pilot project series. Five pilot communities—Alpena, Lapeer, Lathrup Village, Sault Ste. Marie, and Ypsilanti—have put theory into action to demonstrate the impact of these principles and their applicability regardless of size or location. Through their demonstration projects, communities across the state will better understand how to leverage a unique sense of place in a community to enhance quality of life and attract the people and businesses that will fuel the 21st century economy.
Mary Ellen Jones serves on the MACNE Board. You may reach her at email@example.com.