reWorking Michigan: Art Share benefits artists, small town venues

Lansing, MI –

reWorking Michigan examines our evolving economy, as the people of the Great Lake State explore new ways to make a living and build a future.

Today, our reWorking Michigan Monday report looks at a new program that gives local artists and musicians new places to ply their craft. "Michigan Art Share" is designed to showcase established and emerging talent in a series of venues across four counties...from galleries to office buildings to train depots.

The program is just taking off in Lansing, but its creators hope to replicate their model statewide.

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Not your traditional art gallery

Tom Stewart doesn't call himself an art connoisseur, though he's the president of an art gallery. It may be more accurate to say his day job is something more akin to a talent scout.

Stewart is the president of the Center for New Enterprise Opportunity. It's the parent company of Art Alley in Lansing's REO Town. Art Alley itself is just 16 months old, though its worn brick walls with faded advertisements date back to the heyday of Ransom Eli Olds.

This isn't a traditional gallery that displays a lot of juried artists; those who've had a panel of experts confer the title of "art" upon their craft. Rather, Stewart says, Art Alley is a place for everyone.

"Our goal really is to get people out of their garages, out of their basements to express themselves creatively and give them a venue to do that," Stewart says.

A rotating art show

Stewart wants to see local artists in a lot more venues. He and his team are developing a project called "Michigan Art Share." Artists and musicians rotate through a string of locations across mid-Michigan for a set period of time. Instead of working gig to gig, the performers are on a circuit.

The project reaches across Ingham, Eaton, Clinton and Shiawassee counties. Shiawassee Regional Chamber of Commerce president Renita Mikolajczyk is identifying potential performance spaces, like the Durand Union train station and a new women's retreat center in Laingsburg.

"And then we are creating a database of both local juried artists and emerging artists as well as performers here in Shiawassee County," Mikolajczyk says. "Our biggest hurdle is finding the financial support to get this going, but we work on it every day."

The goal is to replicate the Michigan Art Share model statewide. The Art Alley team hopes to do that with the help of one local but far-reaching organization.

Enlisting a statewide partner

Every second Wednesday of the month, Prima Civitas Foundation in East Lansing hosts a local performer. This time, it's guitarist Ray Kamalay. He woos his audience in the company lobby. Behind him hang half a dozen nature photos...also part of the Art Share rotation.

Prima Civitas president and CEO Steven Webster says every artist is driven by passion, but passion alone doesn't pay the bills. He credits Art Share as a way for artists to get regular exposure, and an opportunity to help them turn their creative outlet into a full time career.

"And so it is that incubator," Webster explains. "Someplace to de-risk the move from your day job to a new job based on your art passion."

Tia Imani Hanna agrees. She's Art Alley's music director and a performer herself. She says the biggest problem artists face is getting enough work.

"So, if I can get five or six gigs, that's a car payment; that's a light bill," says Hanna. "So, it just keeps me living here as opposed to moving someplace else where I can gig more often."

And frequent gigs translates into local talent retention. That's music to the ears of many communities looking to the arts for economic revival.

Building a business model

The Michigan Art Share program still needs some refinement. Art Alley president Tom Stewart says they're developing a business model now. He hopes to have a written plan by next spring.

"We'll pilot it, I would imagine for about a year, and then after that, I think we'll start," Stewart says. "Once we hammer it down, we'll do the adjustments that we need to after testing it, and then we're going to start going everywhere with it."

Stewart says though securing long term funding has been tricky, there's no lack of potential venues or talent. He says Art Alley already has some 1,500 visual and performing artists on its waiting list.

reWorking Michigan
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