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By Allison Buck

Having worked in various non-profit arts organizations over the past seven years, I’ve been lucky enough to meet a wide range of artists, art advocates, art administrators, and art lovers who call Ann Arbor home. Undoubtedly, art and culture are one of the many reasons folks are drawn to Ann Arbor (myself included). Whether folks come annually for the world-renowned Ann Arbor Art Fair, or to visit the top-notch University of Michigan Museum of Art, or come for a more intimate arts experience at the various galleries in town — the options are endless.  

But as a resident of Ann Arbor, you might not know where to begin. One thing I’ve learned over the past several years is that there are a lot of awesome women giving their all to the arts in Ann Arbor, and through their dedication and creativity they’re providing diverse and authentic art experiences that are not to be missed!

The Ann Arbor Art Fair makes Ann Arbor a go-to destination for arts and culture, drawing an audience of over 450,000 each year. But did you know that the Art Fair is actually four fairs in one, produced by four distinct organizations all run by women? The Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair, the portion of the fair that spans Main Street and sections of Liberty and State Street, is run by the non-profit organization The Guild of Artists and Artisans (aka the Guild). The Guild’s Executive Director, Karen Delhey, manages an all-women team that, in addition to The Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair, produces five other fairs annually and manages the newly-opened Gutman Gallery. Through the Gutman Gallery and other programs by the Guild, Delhey and her team connect artists to art lovers and provide educational and marketing opportunities for artists to support their careers, while also increasing the community’s artistic appreciation and awareness.

Although the Ann Arbor Art Fair was cancelled this year due to COVID-19, you can still connect with and shop for fine art in downtown Ann Arbor at the Guild’s Gutman Gallery located at 118 N. Fourth Ave. If you’re looking for a great way to shop local and give a personal gift this holiday season, check out their Holiday Artists Market either in person or online at ShopGutmanGallery.com

Feeling creative, or just looking for something to do? Learn to make your own gifts at one or more of the Guild’s virtual workshops; or, if you’re an artist, you can become a member of the Guild and showcase and sell your work at the Gutman Gallery. Find out more information online at their website theguild.org or follow them on social media as they announce new opportunities on Facebook and at @gutmangallery on Instagram. Having produced art events for over 50 years, the Guild has something to offer for anyone interested in the arts.

Speaking of organizations that have a long track record, the Huron River Art Collective (the Collective) is another great local group welcoming artists of all types. Formerly known as the Ann Arbor Women Artists (and originally called the Ann Arbor Women Painters), the group has grown since its inception in 1951 and changed its name a few times to more accurately portray its members. Also a non-profit organization, the Huron River Art Collective is open to anyone 18 and over with an interest in the arts, including professional artists, beginning artists, and even those who appreciate and support the arts. Currently all of their board members are women. The board president, Lizzy Wilson, a professional artist focusing on figure sculptures, says the Collective currently has approximately 280 members and that it’s in the midst of another major transitional period.

In addition to the name change, the membership also approved a mission revision with the purpose of creating a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization. Even though the name and mission may have expanded, the members still have a strong desire to focus on supporting women artists, recently developing a new program called “Empowering Women Artists.” This program is a collaboration between the Collective, the Womens’ Caucus for Art Michigan Chapter, and the Detroit Society of Women Painters and Sculptors. The first event for this program is scheduled for December 1, 2020. You can also enjoy the Collective members’ artwork at one of their recently-added virtual exhibitions on their website or in-person at local businesses such as Sweetwaters and Joe & Rosie’s. You can find more information about membership and additional programs offered by the Collective at https://annarborwomenartists.org/.

Perhaps the most in-your-face example of the arts in Ann Arbor can be found at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Huron Street in downtown Ann Arbor. If you’ve driven east down Huron in the past year, then you’ve likely seen the massive 10-story tall mural “Challenge Everything. Create Anything” that spans the wall of the Courthouse Square building at 100 S. 4th Ave. This work, along with several other murals across Ann Arbor, are the work of the Collective member and TreeTown Murals founder Mary Thiefels, in partnership with TreeTown Murals’ Creative Director, Danijel Matanic. Having done her first mural when she was only 19 and her first commissioned mural a year later, Thiefels has been adding color to the city with her murals for many years. This recent mural, produced in partnership with Destination Ann Arbor and Wickfield Properties, celebrates the local arts community.  

Some of Thiefel’s first murals adorned the underpasses where the railroad comes into and across the city. Overtime, Thiefels received a growing amount of commissions and support for her murals, inspiring the start of TreeTown Murals in 2007. Today, TreeTown Murals focuses on collaborations with folks on “projects that can be transformative, whether that is transforming a new space, facilitating new partnerships, or involving youth; projects that can foster an exchange of ideas and help create dialogue and opportunities to experience the world outside.”  In addition to her mural work, Thiefels has also inherited a second creative company called Brush Monkeys. Brush Monkeys hires local artists during the holiday season to adorn the windows of storefronts with custom winter illustrations. These paintings are a fun and festive addition to downtown Ann Arbor. Be sure to check them out when you see them!

Finally, if you’re at all connected to the arts in Ann Arbor, then you’ve likely met Deb Polich, president/CEO of the Arts Alliance and Artrain. Starting her 30+ years in the arts at the Michigan Theater and single-handedly running two non-profit arts organizations with the support of all-women staff, Polich advocates for the impact of the arts locally and nationally, and even co-hosts a radio show in her spare time called creative:impact, which airs weekly on NPR affiliate WEMU FM. If you’re looking to learn more about the creative people, jobs, and businesses that make the Ann Arbor area such a vibrant place, then be sure to tune in. Want a comprehensive list of the local arts and cultural organizations, businesses, and individual artists in Washtenaw County? Check out the Arts Alliance’s annual Arts + Creative Industries Guide on their website at creativewashtenaw.org.

Looking for a fun way to enjoy Ann Arbor’s arts and culture while being safe? Take a tour of the numerous murals and public art works that can be found across Ann Arbor. For inspiration, check out the Ann Arbor Public Art Commissions virtual art tour as a place to start (https://www2.a2gov.org/GIS/MapAnnArbor/PublicArt/), and add the Ann Arbor Art Center’s A2AC Murals projects to your list too (https://www.annarborartcenter.org/art-in-public/murals/). While you’re downtown, pick up a piece of art for yourself or a gift at the Gutman Gallery; warm up with a cup of coffee at Sweetwaters while checking out the Collective’s latest exhibition; and enjoy the custom window art by BrushMonkeys!

Allison Buck

BIO: 

Allison Buck is currently the marketing director for the Guild of Artists and Artisans and the chair of the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission. She holds a master’s degree in art administration from the University of Michigan, Flint and two bachelor’s degrees in photography and English from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. In 2017, she was awarded the Tamara Real Emerging Leadership Award by the Arts Alliance for her successful work supporting the arts, sciences, and humanities throughout Washtenaw County.