|Kirtland president proposes Artisan Center for Grayling|
Listen to Dr. Tom Quinn's presentation to the Grayling Rotary Club
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(C) 2010 AnnMarie Rowland. This article first appeared in the Gaylord Herald Times, January 19, 2010. Used by permission. AnnMarie Rowland is a freelance writer from Indian River, MI. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
GRAYLING --It is a quiet town that has managed to keep its “up north” character through years and changing times.
It is a town that already sparkles with natural history, being home to one of the few remaining stands of old growth white pine in the state; a reminder of the giant trees that brought settlement to the area more than a hundred years ago.
Situated along the Au-Sable River, it was named as one of the Top 10 Fly Fishing Towns by Forbes Magazine in 2009.
It is the birthplace of Trout Unlimited. It is home to the AuSable River Canoe Marathon, Hartwick Pines State Park, and could, possibly, become a center for creative and artistic studies unlike anything found anywhere else in Michigan.
Earlier this month Kirtland Community College President Dr. Tom Quinn unveiled to the Grayling Rotary Club a plan for Grayling that, if implemented, would add one more shining facet to a town that is already a gem in the Tip of the Mitt.
Holding up a series of charts and drawings, Dr. Quinn described the concept of an Artisan Center that Kirtland would like to see built in Grayling as an extension of the Kirtland Campus. Artisan Villages are an economic development tool used to create vibrant communities.
Citing statistics from a dotting of other small towns around the country where similar centers have been built and are thriving, Dr. Quinn challenged local leaders to look forward and dare to think broadly.
“In order to create new economies, planners and leaders should focus on creating great places that attract talent, creating a global orientation and creating tolerant places with great social, natural, entrepreneurial and creative capital,” he said. “Grayling is perfectly situated to do that.”
If approved for construction in Grayling, the center would “begin with a gallery, with 450 artists displaying and selling their work,” Quinn said, as eyebrows lifted around the room. “These artists would be drawn from a nine-county area and would include a wide variety of arts and crafts. I’m not talking about painted wooden decorations or knitted toilet paper holders. I’m talking about the fine arts -- paintings, yes, but also pottery and blown glass and fine woodworking; useful items that are beautifully handmade. Interesting objects made by interesting people.”
Only the highest quality work would be presented and monitored by a “super guild.”
If 450 seems like a daunting number, consider that in 2009 Kirtland hosted a “trial” art show to determine whether the talent exists in the area, as well as the interest level for buyers.
“We more or less ‘threw it together’ had a very successful show, with 316 artists displaying,” Quinn noted. “Do you know how many people it took to find 316 fine artists in the area? One. Me. Imagine how many more we might find if there was a place for them to display collectively all the time.”
Following the gallery would be a café, demonstration studios where visitors could see the processes of the items being made and sold, artist studios, a farmer’s market and possible gardens, all under what Quinn thinks of as the Sand River Gallery (the name coming from the translation of AuSable).
On the academic side, there would be a theater and classrooms with degree programs available in Grayling, as in Roscommon. If Grayling adopts the idea and supports it, higher education would be on its doorstep along with a huge, positive, economic impact.
Can a collective of artists cooperating with a community college really make a difference? Quinn pointed to the Southern Highland Art Guild, centered in Northwestern North Carolina, with its gallery in Asheville.
“In that part of North Carolina, this is a $206 million industry. Annually.”
More well known is the Artisan Center in Berea, Ky., which could serve as a model for the proposed complex in Grayling.
“On a slow day, Berea’s gallery sees about 500 visitors per day. In the peak season, you can multiply that by four. A smaller village in Augusta, Maine, with a gallery of only 2,250 square feet, averages 16,000 visitors per month.”
Grayling’s geographical location makes it an easy destination for families who want to go “up and back” in a day or on a single tank of gas. And the typical visitor to an Artisan Village is exactly the kind of visitor that any town would welcome, that is, the kind that will come and leave some of their dollars behind.
Kirtland is now working on a feasibility study, a business plan and grant writing.
“This is not something that can, nor will, happen overnight.”
But Quinn did not leave room for doubt about the college’s intentions.
“This is our (Kirtland’s) next move,” he stated. “This will happen. If it is to happen here (in Grayling), the leaders in the community need to step up to the plate and support the idea. They need to be willing to accept something different, to convert Grayling to a town of art -- a city of creativity.”
Kirtland has waded into the sparkling stream of the AuSable and cast its line over Grayling. Let’s hope they catch it.