News & Views

R-E: Good News, Bad News for Local Arts

From the Traverse City Record Eagle, 11/3/2023 

We’re still “Falling Into the Arts” at the Northwest Michigan Arts and Culture Network but the holiday are already gearing up as calendars shift to November. The first art markets are starting at the Dennos Museum Center this week and Crooked Tree Arts Center next. More are coming at Oliver Art Center in Frankfort, Glen Arbor Arts Center, Northport Arts Association, Charlevoix Circle of Arts, Jordan River Arts Council, Up North Arts in Cadillac, and the Ramsdell Regional Center for the Arts in Manistee as well as the galleries and shops across the region.

The holiday markets are just a sample of the many festivities slated through the New Year. Watch for stages to light up with dance, music, talks, concerts, history, film and theatre. This is the season of the Nutcracker, The Messiah, White Christmas and so many annual traditions and new favorites to explore. If you need suggestions, we have many. Visit the Network’s holiday showcase page at: to get started.

I so value the 72 arts and cultural organizations and the many, many artists and culture bearers stretched across Northwest Michigan who comprise our Network. I am proud to support their work and stand in awe of their talents and dedication.

All contribute so much to our region’s cultural vibrancy, building community, bridging challenges, driving the economy, attracting new workforce, and creating our unique “NoMI” quality of life. Yet, the arts often fall under the radar, are minimized or are taken for granted as a common frivolity. Nothing is further from the truth, nor should the arts be less deserving of financial support by patrons and communities.

This was brought home on several levels during the past few weeks. It was a “good news, bad news” set of days.

Arts & Economic Prosperity 6

Americans for the Arts released its long-awaited Arts & Economic Prosperity 6 (AEP6) report in mid-October. AEP6 is an economic and social impact study of the nation’s nonprofit arts and culture industry. The study provides detailed findings on 373 regions from across all 50 states and Puerto Rico—ranging in population from 4,000 to 4 million—and represents rural, suburban, and large urban communities. Michigan communities included Marquette, Ann Arbor, Flint and those in the Upper Peninsula Arts and Culture Alliance. Our region aligns well with our northern neighbors. This was the first study since the pandemic. AEP5 was published in 2017.

A sample of key findings: a) Arts and culture nonprofits generated $151.7-billion in economic activity, supporting  2.6-million jobs; b) 86% feel the arts are vital to their community’s quality of life, with 79% noting importance of arts on business and economic development; c) 89% want to preserve the arts for future generations. More at:

Michigan Challenges

On the more challenging side, the State of Michigan Arts and Culture Council (MACC) announced its FY2024 grant awards in late September. The Network serves as MACC’s regional partner to administer the minigrant program in Northwest Michigan. MACC funding benefits 45-55 organizations annually, especially with operational support dollars that are so vital to so many. One year ago, in FY23, MACC awarded $12,445,413 grant dollars throughout the state, $923,219 in Northwest Michigan. This year, FY24, MACC’s budget was reduced so there was only $9,784, 219 available for granting with just $694,629 in Northwest Michigan. That was a 23% reduction statewide and 25% reduction locally. When you consider that all grant dollars must be matched 1:1, the further economic loss multiplies.

And the ripples continue. Just two weeks ago, Arts for All of Northern Michigan announced that it was ceasing operation in November. The organization had been providing services to special needs youth and adults for 27 years, a niche of important work that will leave a notable service gap. Funding challenges, reduced grants and declining donors were among the forces. Arts for All is not alone. Earlier this year, Parallel 45 Theatre cancelled its summer season and, during the past 14 months, more than 35 senior arts administrators have left their organizations and the arts overall.

What Do We Value?

I’ve heard the comment many times that undervaluing the arts is nothing new and it’s always been like this ‘up north.’ My response? Why? The past doesn’t need to be our future. What do we value as communities? We have amazing artists, culture bearers and organizations of all shapes and sizes creating a cultural vibrancy we love and is unmatched for communities our size across the country.

But, the ecosystem supporting arts and culture has been growing increasingly fragile for a decade, brought to the point of fracturing post-pandemic. Once something – an organization, a program, funding, long term staff – are gone, it’s very hard to bring them back or to patch up the cracks. We’ve found that first hand in the years since a prior board dissolved the long-standing Traverse Area Arts Council in 2006 and the State of Michigan slashed MACC and education funding in FY2007. The Network rose from the grassroots ten years later, but decades of opportunities, infrastructure and relationships were lost and needed to be rebuilt. MACC funding has never returned to 2005 levels.

Season of Giving

We are entering the season of giving. I invite you to help by giving the gift of art. There are so many ways to show support large and small. Buy art from an artist or gallery, attend a concert, ballet or play, introduce a friend to a new exhibit, take a hike through the sculpture parks, explore local history, buy books, share arts experiences with the children in your life, shop in museum gift shops, give gift certificates to for classes and tickets, hire local musicians for your parties.

In Downtown Traverse City, you can support the Network and several arts and cultural organizations during Shop Your Community Day on Saturday, 11/11. Get a start on your shopping and a percent will be donated back to organizations you choose. The Network will be at Higher Art Gallery all day with music, treats and info on all of our members – please stop by!

Those who can, please gift with a donation to those organizations that you value. The Network is also striving to build a fund to support, protect and share the arts long term. Please advocate for and invest in the sustainability of our regional arts and culture sector. Need more info – please reach out.

We need you. We value you. We invite you to celebrate arts, culture and our creative communities through the holiday season…and long beyond!