About 40 representatives of arts and culture organizations throughout Northeast Michigan gathered last week at The Cellar to discuss their shared vision and decide on a future course of action for increasing awareness and exposure to the arts.
The meeting was called by the Michigan Arts and Culture Northeast group that formed three years ago and resulted in many positive accomplishments, including the development of the Passport to the Arts program, branding of the area as ARTown, creation of a glossy map aimed at visitor center traffic around the state, and development of an arts and culture activities website.
Dr. Julie Avery, recently retired curator of rural life and culture at the MSU Museum, facilitated the conversation three years ago that jump-started the collaboration of organizations in the region, which ultimately led to the formation of MACNE to represent them collectively.
Avery returned to Alpena last week to lead another visioning session and to help the group decide where it wants to go in the future.
"You have a wonderful foundation here for organizations to go forward," said Avery, who has used the successes experienced in Alpena during other talks she has presented around the state and country.
Since MACNE started, 75 different arts or culture-related organizations have been identified along the US-23 corridor. Avery was impressed with the diversity of those offerings in the region.
"Most counties don't have this richness of diversity in the arts," she said. "It is a huge asset."
MACNE is now tasked with deciding whether it wants to continue to be project-driven or to be simply a collaborative support group that only meets occasionally. The 40 in attendance were asked to brainstorm about what they would like to see happen in the future. Among suggestions that received the most notice were:
A number of the ideas presented would require funds for implementation, and so the group also discussed various ways to obtain revenue to make them happen. Avery, MACNE President Tim Kuehnlein and MACNE board member Shawn Sexton all stressed the importance of viewing the arts as a driver of economic development.
"More than any other organization that I'm involved in, MACNE has the power to drive economic development," Sexton said in wrapping up the evening.
The MACNE board plans to meet at a future date to continue discussion of what the group wants to accomplish next.