An official at the Michigan State University Museum will be paying a return visit to Alpena later this month to help the local arts community continue its positive efforts of elevating and promoting the arts in Northeast Michigan.
Dr. Julie Avery, curator of rural life and culture at the MSU Museum, first came to the area in 2009 and helped jump-start a collaborative of arts, culture and humanities organizations in the region. That group, now officially known as Michigan Arts and Culture Northeast Michigan or MACNE, has since identified more than 75 area arts-related organizations up and down the US-23 corridor.
Out of the collaborative effort also came the successful YourTown is ARTown Passport to the Arts program as well as a collective mindset of how the arts can be a driver of economic and community development throughout Northeast Michigan.
Avery is scheduled to lead a Round Table discussion Feb. 16 from 6-8 p.m. at The Cellar to help determine what direction the group now wants to head in cross-promotion of the arts.
"My role is to try and facilitate conversation. With luck, I can help people who maybe wouldn't talk and make sure they have an opportunity to do that," Avery said. "I can push people to go beyond the obvious ideas and see what we come up with."
Much like her previous visit, she said, those attending will discuss past goals, how the group has grown and how people feel about that.
"Most of the time is going to be spent brainstorming to identify what worked," Avery said. "We also want to draw people's wild ideas to see what can be done again. This will really be of the community. I'm not going to make any decisions. This is an opportunity for there to be a dialogue across the community around heritage and culture and arts to explore where we can go with it."
MACNE's efforts made such an impact during its inaugural year in 2009 with its YourTown is ARTown Passport to the Arts project that it was awarded a $20,000 grant from the Michigan Municipal League's Center for the 21st Century Community. That grant was given initially to the City of Alpena, which in turn chose to direct the funds to the Passport program so that it could be continued and expanded.
The grant funds resulted in the creation of a professional-grade ARTrail Roadmap brochure aimed at the tourist base. Visitors at welcome centers around the state had a chance to pick up the roadmap and find out what the region offers in the way of arts and culture activities all the way from Standish to Mackinaw City.
The grant also helped with the creation of a website, artownmichigan.org, to act as a clearinghouse for arts and culture activities going on throughout the area. And finally, grant funds helped to make possible a "community expressions" project that involved converting old historic photographs of downtown Alpena into large-scale building wraps that were installed on the Royal Knight Theater building on Chisholm Street. A final segment of the community expressions project involved sponsoring a public contest to produce an additional building wrap that will be hung in the spring.
Avery expressed pleasure over seeing how MACNE evolved over the last three years.
"I think it's marvelous that there are increasing numbers of options of things to do," she said. "I thought the Passport idea was a fun way to do that. The power of this is that multiple organizations are now trusting one another and doing things together. They are not feeling like anyone wants them to merge, but are using their own expertise to add to the whole so that the whole is growing."
Avery said it is important that the offerings have grown beyond just Alpena, giving people more reasons to visit Northeast Michigan.
"People come to visit not just one thing," she said. "For me, it's a long way to come to Alpena, but if I can come part way up and drop in and out of towns along the way before I get to Alpena, then you are creating an experience around the heritage corridor."
Anyone interested in attending the Round Table discussion to be facilitated by Avery is asked to RSVP at 356-6678. The gathering begins at 5:30 p.m. with a cash bar and special dinner menu for individual purchases. The formal meeting is from 6-8 p.m.