NW MI Arts & Culture Network
Strengthening the Arts by Connecting the Dots
As published in the Traverse City Record-Eagle, 6/10/2022. Read the latest column by NW MI Arts & Culture Network convener Mary Bevans Gillett.
Better Together – Strengthening the Arts by Connecting the Dots
By Mary Bevans Gillett, Northwest Michigan Arts & Culture Network
“The urge to connect the dots – and to share what you have connected – is the urge that makes you an artist.” Amanda Palmer
Arts, culture and the creative talents who make the magic are dotted across northern Michigan, filling the map with a vibrancy that is uniquely our own.
The palette is vivid, filled with artists and writers, performing troupes and venues, musicians and orchestras, dance and arts residencies, historic preservation and cultural interpretation, art centers and museums, sculpture parks and public art, film houses and world class arts training.
Each earns applause in their own right and deservedly so. But, if we broaden the lens, we see that map of dots creates one of the most concentrated clusters of individual artists, culture bearers, organizations and creative community endeavors in the country. Collectively, the impact is powerful. SMU Data Arts, the National Center for Arts Research, has repeatedly ranked the Grand Traverse area among the nation’s top arts-vibrant communities.
When the dots connect, they also strengthen the sector. That was the impetus behind creating the Northwest Michigan Arts & Culture Network. The Network grew from the grassroots as organizations and individuals came together to strengthen the regional ecosystem supporting arts and culture by basically connecting the dots to each other and our communities to build relationships, share resources, cross promote, and collaborate. In doing so, all build capacity and connection to do more.
Here are three recent examples of the synergy:
Stories that Heal was a Community Partners project this spring that connected across Benzie County, using the arts to address trauma and resiliency. Led by artist and composer Molly Sturges, the project brought many together – the Benzonia and Benzie Shores Libraries, BACN, The Garden Theater, Oliver Arts Center, Grow Benzie, musicians, writers, singers, therapists, those who experienced great loss and those still working through. There were facilitated story circles, a pop-up choir that met weekly, calls for writers and community talks. All came together on 5/15 for a public performance and discussion. Interlochen Public Radio is sharing the project, the music, the process and the impact in a series of podcasts.
Young artists are connecting to create, share and show their work through a New Leaders project led by Nick Walsh in Traverse City. Artist Chillouts are held on the third Thursday each month at Studio Anatomy. Artists ages 16-30 gather to hang out and listen to a DJ while working on their own art in informal workspaces. The project is also hosting Emerging Artists Exhibitions to showcase and support new talents, most recently partnering with the City Opera House and Studio Anatomy.
The 2022 Northwest Michigan Arts & Culture Summit brought together 90 arts and cultural leaders across the ten-county region on 5/3 for a robust professional development day filled with panels, breakouts, networking, sharing and strengthening connections as we all work from pandemic through recovery in what is our new normal. Technology strengthened the reach with at least a third attending by Zoom and the rest in person at Interlochen Center for the Arts. The first summit in 2016 helped plant the seeds for the Network. What began as an idea with flipcharts and planning tables has shaped into a growing network that connects, collaborates and champions arts, culture and our creative communities.
We’ll keep connecting the dots and welcome all to plant a pin and join in. We’re better, together.