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Fri January 28, 2011
The Cost of Creativity - A Radio Documentary
The Cost of Creativity
Thanks to the following Michigan musicians, whose songs are featured in the documentary:
GUERRA: From Michigan Radio, this is the COST OF CREATIVITY. I’m Jennifer Guerra.
NORRIS: And I’m Kyle Norris. Before we dig too deep into the relationship between arts and the economy…let’s look at the numbers.
To do that, we have to go back a decade...to a time when there were only TWO Harry Potter movies.
GUERRA: And that incessantly catchy song by Nelly Furtado was on the radio all the time...
MUSIC: Nelly Furtado / “I'm Like a Bird” / Whoa, Nelly! / Dreamworks
GUERRA: Ok, that’s enough of that. State funding for the arts in Michigan ten years ago was also at an all time high.
NORRIS: That’s right, Jen. 26 million dollars. Through a combination of state taxes and federal money, that’s how much funding the arts got in Michigan. That money was awarded to artists and arts organizations across the state. In fact arts reporting on Michigan Radio is funded, in part, by a state grant.
But over the years, funding for the arts in Michigan has been cut by 90 percent.
GUERRA: Today, arts funding for the state is just around two-and-a-half million dollars. As a comparison: Michigan taxpayers will spend more on prisons in 11 hours than they spend on arts and culture in the entire year.
REAL: For too long the arts community has bought into the idea that somehow we were second class citizens and that we somehow weren’t as important as other individuals and that we were happy for whatever crumbs were tossed our way.
NORRIS: That’s Tamara Real, the founder of the Arts Alliance, an arts advocacy group in Washtenaw County.
REAL: I think artists and arts managers need to recognize that we are not the sideshow, we are the show. We need to not be embarrassed about what we have to offer, to feel proud of what we have to offer, and to demand our place at the table when we’re talking about how to make our communities better.
NORRIS: Artists play a big role in creating vibrant communities. Places where people want to live, businesses want to set up shop, and tourists want to visit.
GUERRA: And spend money.
But vibrant communities don’t just pop up out of nowhere. Take Detroit for example – the city’s been hit hard by the recession. But there is a movement of artists in Detroit trying to improve the city one neighborhood at a time.
GUERRA: kt Andresky is a good example.
Before she moved to Detroit a couple years ago...she lived and worked in an artist collective in San Francisco’s Mission District.
NORRIS: What was that like?
GUERRA: Well, Andresky says when she first got to the Mission District....it was pretty gritty and cheap. Inevitably, artists like Andresky started sprucing things up. Soon enough the Mission became popular, so popular that Andresky’s rent skyrocketed. So she started to look for a new place to live.
ANDRESKY: I had done some research about what the state of Detroit was in and the art spaces that were already here.
GUERRA: Andresky left San Francisco for Detroit’s east side. It’s more than a little rough around the edges there. She hears gun shots. Regularly. She and some other artists just bought an old cigar factory for 21-thousand dollars that they plan to fix up:
ANDRESKY: Detroit is one of only places where an artist can come in and probably own a building with the amount of revenue that they get.
GUERRA: It takes a little while for Andresky’s friend, artist Blake Carroll, to unscrew the heavily boarded up door to their new building, but when we finally get inside, the place is completely destroyed. Copper pipes have been stolen, electrical wires.
CARROLL: You basically get the outside walls. I mean, we got a good deal on a bunch of bricks, basically. It needs new windows, the floor is all buckled, water has been coming in, the basement was like the public bath house."
They want to build a wood shop in there, also a ceramic studio, a dance floor, retail and office space. Even apartments on the top floor.
ANDRESKY: The name of this space is the World Headquarters. We are all interested in world domination through the arts.
GUERRA: They just started to apply for grants, so renovations and world domination might have to wait awhile, which is OK. Andresky has more than enough to keep her busy. She’s got her day job teaching art and urban gardening to Detroit school kids. Plus there’s all the email she and Carroll have to go through:
ANDRESKY: We’re getting contacted weekly saying: ‘I’m thinking of coming to Detroit!’ And it’s like, well, yeah, come here and then we’ll talk.
GUERRA: And while they won’t hold your hand and show you how to parachute into Detroit to get a piece of the ruin action, if you do decide to stay, they’ll probably hand you a power tool and put you to work...
NORRIS: Detroit has its fair share of people who parachute in. A lot of them come to take pictures of the city’s abandoned landscape. Some call it journalism or art and others call it ruin porn. Everywhere you look, abandoned buildings litter the skyline.
AUSTIN: Detroit has the greatest collection of Depression-era architecture in the United States.
NORRIS: Dan Austin is obsessed with these buildings. He’s a copy editor at the Detroit Free Press by day, but at night, he’s home at his computer, posting all kinds of historical information and pictures to his website called Buildings of Detroit. The website is now a book called Lost Detroit.
AUSTIN: We have people email us all the time from France. Had one a couple days ago from Sweden. It’s like ‘I want to come to Detroit and shoot photos of your architecture. Can you help me?’ I don’t really have a problem with it. Some think it’s a negative, but on one hand anything that brings people to Detroit is a plus.
GUERRA: And he says handsdown the first place EVERYONE wants to visit when they get to Detroit…
AUSTIN: Oh Michigan Central, beyond, no question: Undisputed champion of architectural ruin porn.
GUERRA:The Michigan Central train station was built in 1913 by the same guys who designed Grand Central Station in New York. The building is massive, you can see it from the freeway. All the windows busted out, spray paint everywhere, trees growing out from the top of the depot.
People sometimes compare it the Coliseum in Rome. It’s a giant ruin in the heart of a city. And almost every day people are there taking pictures. Like the photographer Andrew Moore, who’s from New York City.
MOORE: Well, I mean, it’s the kind of thing I’ve been doing for a long time.
GUERRA: For his new photo book Detroit Disassembled – Moore hit all the ruin porn biggies in the city: Michigan Central, the Packard Plant, the city’s old technical high school:
MOORE:I think there is a long artistic tradition of photographing ruin as a way of talking about man’s life and there’s a kind of mortality involved. Just as we look at an old face and see somebody’s life, you can look at an old building that’s certainly past its prime and get a sense of history. These places are witnesses to history, and an important history.
GUERRA: Moore spent 60 days in Detroit photographing the ruins. Urban explorers took him into the notorious Detroit Public Schools Book Depository, where thousands of books are moldering in piles on the floor.
He photographed the crumbling concert venue where Detroit punk rockers the MC5 used to play to crowds of screaming teenagers.
GUERRA: You have one picture where you can only see the tip tip top of a two story house. It’s just covered in trees and green and moss. Were you expecting to find that?
MOORE: Actually, I had a set of expectations. I thought OK, there’d be a lot of late 19th century mansions that are all tumbled down and boarded up and sloping. But what I didn’t expect to see was libraries, churches, hospitals, all kinds of factories, manufacturing centers, so forth… just the variety of things that had fallen, were kind of falling apart in a very dramatic way.
GUERRA: One of the book’s most striking images is the Model T Headquarters in Highland Park.
MOORE: There’s this extraordinary scene. We’re there in May, and the entire floor is covered in this bright green carpet of moss, and it has these little ridges in it; it’s almost like looking at an aerial view of rice paddies in Indonesia. And it’s Henry Ford’s office from when they built the Model Ts. So it’s a powerful image of kind of what was and what happened to it.
GUERRA: Some Detroit photographers don’t really see it that way.
BLANQUART: I might not connect to a lot of the photographs that strictly deal with abandonment, but that’s just because that’s not what I think is most interesting about this city.
GUERRA: That’s Roman Blanquart. I caught up with him and fellow photographer Brian Widdis at coffee shop in the city. They both agree that pictures of ruins are important, but...
BLANQUART: Most people don’t have the right knowledge of history to look at these pictures and know what they mean. So what happens is that people are going to look at these pictures and their senses are going to get excited for just peeking into a situation that is horrible. And I think that’s when the photograph becomes ruin porn.
GUERRA: The two photographers got so fed up a couple years ago with people parachuting in from all over the word to take pictures of the so called ruins of Detroit… they responded with their own website called Can’t Forget the Motor City.
BLANQUART: The idea I think for us for the project, there’s this one expression my wife said from the beginning, is that “under the carcass lays the soul.” And that’s what we want to explore is that soul. What do people do here? How do they live in this city that is bombed out in many ways, that is for many looks like a war zone?
GUERRA: Instead of buildings, they focus on people. They capture what it’s like to walk through the neighborhoods. You’ll see a picture of two Mexican teens sitting on a swing. Brian Widdis told me about another image of people dancing in an abandoned lot.
WIDDIS: It’s called John’s Carpet House. It’s this summer blues jam. It’s a really positive thing that happens once every week. A couple hundred people come out, they listen to live music, and dance and bar-b-que.
GUERRA: Andrew Moore, the New York photographer, understands where the two Detroit photographers are coming from:
MOORE: I think if you live there, you’re so jaded to all this decay, dereliction, things falling apart, it’s hard to work from it. It’s hard to make art from it. So I think as a tourist, as somebody coming with fresh eyes, you have the advantage of a kind of horror and awe of this process and maybe even an enthusiasm.
GUERRA: And while it might seem like most visiting artists just want a piece of the ruin action before flying back to wherever it was they came from, there’s always the possibility that some of them will like what they see and decide to stay.
NORRIS: Coming up, when life gives you lemons...make rugs? That story in 15 minutes.
GUERRA: You’re listening to the COST OF CREATIVITY on Michigan Radio.
NORRIS: From Michigan Radio, this is the COST OF CREATIVITY. I’m Kyle Norris.
GUERRA: And I’m Jennifer Guerra. You don’t need us to tell you that life in Michigan is tough right now. The state is facing a 1.8 billion dollar budget deficit, not to mention the state’s unemployment rate is in the double digits.
NORRIS: So if things are so bad, should we even be talking about the arts?
Jennifer Goulet is president of Artserve Michigan, the statewide arts advocacy group. She says people always talk about the touchy-feely aspect of the arts: How they can make you feel, help make places pretty, and can even be healing – like the ways some hospitals use art therapy for recovery.
But Goulet also says the arts can be a concrete economic tool that can play a big role in helping re-invent the state. Take this 2008 statistic, for example:
GOULET: Arts and cultural institutions, attractions, museums, galleries, concert halls and so forth contributed 15% of the state’s cultural tourism revenues - it was 1.8 billion dollars. More than golf courses. And I think putting it in that context, that’s a major contributor to the state.
GUERRA: Not to mention the 21-thousand businesses in Michigan that are directly linked to arts and culture...
GOULET: All of those businesses are adding jobs in local communities. Those are all job-holders that are paying taxes locally and at the state level. They are people who are buying groceries, and buying gas, and shopping in their local communities.
NORRIS: And she says vibrant communities are where young people want to be, and where businesses want to locate.
GUERRA: Former governor Jennifer Granholm realized how important the arts are to a city’s quality of life. She doled out hundreds of thousands of dollars in “Cool City” grants to try and encourage cultural arts development. But, Kyle, not every cool city grant is a golden ticket. Take the Smart Shop Metal Arts Center in Kalamazoo.
NORRIS: Yeah, I visited the center last summer, where I met Holly Fisher. We caught up inside the Smart Shop art gallery, where stacks of art were everywhere and everything is up for sale.
FISHER: Each item has a number and each item has a price. What we've got for sale are a big stack of campfire forks that have been hand forged out of steel, plasma-cut steel skull Christmas ornaments, and candle holders.
Fisher says it's hard to be around all this stuff and see the demise of Smart Shop.
Fisher founded Smart Shop in 2002. She bought a big industrial building on the north-side of Kalamazoo. She won a $100,000 Cool Cities grant from the state to help renovate the building. She created this place where all kinds of people could come and learn the metal arts, things like blacksmithing, metal smith-ing, jewelry making and sculpture with found objects.
Fisher says one of her favorite things about Smart Shop was that it wasn't just for artsy types. All kinds of people came here from girl scouts to senior citizens.
FISHER: But then we'd have the firemen and the mayor and the guy that runs the auto repair shop down road and the beer distributor.
One of the people who took a lot of classes and became a member of Smart Shop was Kathy Kreager. Her background is in social work, not art. But studying with Fisher and learning how to work with heavy metal gave Kreager the courage to make a huge life change, and become a full-time artist.
FISHER: I would never be doing this had I not had the years at Smart Shop to grow as an artist and experiment and make mistakes along the way in a supportive environment like that.
But people will no longer have opportunities to study at Smart Shop.
Vince Faust says Smart Shop closed for several reasons, including the economy and low enrollment. Smart Shop was a non-profit run by a board of directors. Vince Faust was the board's president.
FAUST: This is a story about a specialized arts organization struggling for a couple of years to find a wide enough audience and not being able to do so.
Faust says Smart Shop definitely had its hard core group of devotees who loved the place. But he says when you're a specialty arts organization it's tough to attract a critical mass of people who can be supportive over the long run.
If artists or art organizations are having a tough time it's important to ask for help.
At least, that's what Beth McCann says. She's with the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo. McCann says arts councils are there for support and advice.
MCCANN: I think that's very important at this time for folks not to wait until it's dooms day to reach out; I'm not saying that's what happened with Smart Shop.
But McCann says the more you reach out and get help from other people, the stronger you can be.
For Holly Fisher Smart Shop's closing is a blow professionally and personally.
FISHER: Well I lost my job and I don't think I've lost faith. I'm sure I will continue teaching and making and studying and being a metal artist and a blacksmith and a metal smith for quite some time.
Fisher says she'll keep doing her thing in her own way, and on a smaller scale.
GUERRA: Now we’re going to head up north to Cross Village. Like a lot of small, rural towns in the state: money is tight and jobs are scarce. And when winter comes around and all the tourists are gone, the outlook is even more bleak. So a group of women started up a cottage industry of rug making to help locals sustain themselves through the lean months.
Jasmine Petrie is 23 years old. She wears her hair in pigtails and has tattoos on her back and arms; she looks more like a rock star than a rug weaver.
PETRIE If you would've asked me a year ago if I'd was going to have a loom and weave rugs, I would have thought you were crazy.
But today, she has her own rug weaving studio in Petoskey where she dyes her own locally produced wool and weaves rugs on a giant Cranbrook loom. She took her first rug weaving class last winter at the newly opened Rug Works, a nonprofit in Cross Village.
PETRIE I just couldn't stop, and I couldn't stop thinking of ideas of what to do with the fleece. I really loved it.
That's exactly what the folks behind the Rug Works were banking on. Their mission was to teach unemployed and underemployed locals a trade, like weaving, in the hopes that they'd then use that trade to create goods and earn a living. Petrie says just about anybody can learn how to weave. On a scale of one to ten, she says it's like a two:
PETRIE It's a fairly simple thing. You don't need a formal education to learn how to weave. You have to be patient, and you have to like to use your hands. I'm pretty sure those are the only requirement.
The Rug Works hired Petrie and a dozen or so others, mostly women, and taught them the basics of how to weave a rug. Some also learned how to dye wool and do punch needle. The Rug Works also paid for the artisans to take classes at the local college and earn a certificate in textiles.
Now, if job security is what you're after, you might think encouraging someone to start a career in the arts wouldn't be the best idea.
ROBINSON: It's a little bit of a radical idea on the founders’ parts, but a great one, I think!
And it's true, it might have been a great idea. But in the end, it didn't work out. The Rug Works closed after being open for little over a year.
I wasn't able to get a straight reason as to why Rug Works had to shut its doors. One gentleman I talked to said the looms were too expensive, although at least half of them seem to have been donated. Another said the major funder pulled out.
Shanna Robinson, who was on the board for Rug Works, says they didn't secure enough funding before the nonprofit opened.
ROBINSON We were so anxious to put people to work and to be able to create a product, and we were so excited, but perhaps we should have done the fundraising first.
Once the folks behind Rug Works knew it was closing, they sold the looms to any of the artisans that wanted them at drastically reduced prices so that they could at least continue to try and earn a living through rug making.
Jasmine Petrie couldn't afford the loom of her dreams; even with the steep discount it cost $1,200. So her art history teacher bought the loom and generously donated it to Petrie. Today, she's busy churning out new rugs. She even helped create a Weavers Guild with other former Rug Workers.
PETRIE: The Rug Works ended too quickly, I think, but they really succeeded in inspiring a lot of people to continue with this.
And maybe that's not all she got out of Rug Works. Petrie is taking an art business class to come up with a marketing plan for her new career in the arts. So, while the Rug Works may not have planned for its future well, Petrie is trying to.
NORRIS: Gerry Bose thought he had his future all mapped out up until a couple years ago. Work was good, there were huge McMansions being built all around Grand Rapids. And since Bose was a paint contractor, he was getting a lot business.
But then the housing bubble burst, and Bose lost about 80% of his work. Since then he's laid off his two employees, and he's had to scramble for work as a painter. But he's also had more time and energy to book jobs as a juggler.
When I caught up with Gerry Bose, he was setting up his show at the Grant Public Library, about 30 miles north of Grand Rapids. Bose cracked-open what looked like a pirate chest.
BOSE: It's basically just my prop box. It's nice to have something mysterious to take things out of. So I've got my clubs and knives and balls and crystal ball and gimmicks and to pull out during the course of the show.
Bose does all kinds of gigs, for corporate events, parties, and schools. He's also performed with the Grand Rapids Symphony. Today's show is an afterschool event for kids. Within minutes Bose has half-a dozen kids up on stage. He's teaching them to balance peacock feathers on their fingertips.
BOSE: Spread out a little, try balancing it on your hand and see how it moves…
The kids are weaving around while balancing the feathers on their foreheads, their feet, their elbows. The kids are so focused on their feathers they barely miss crashing into one another.
Bose incorporates all kinds of stuff into his act. He cracks jokes, does some old vaudeville tricks and juggles knives, balls, and clubs.
BOSE: I taught myself how to juggle when I was working at Woolworths in high school. I would skip out on work and hide in the stacks in the basement in the toy aisle there were balls. That's where I first taught myself how to juggle, dodging work.
But now work is juggling, though it doesn't pay all of the bills.
BOSE: Juggling has not replaced new construction but it's become maybe a quarter of my work, and I'm glad for it.
Bose says the juggling helps reduce his stress. It helps him focus, and "become one with the balls," as he likes to say. And juggling gives him a chance to express his creativity, more than his work in new construction.
BOSE: I have this theory that there are threads of interest in one's life that you weave back and forth through your life. I've had interests in music and theatre and juggling and public speaking. So I'm able to kind of put that all that together in a tapestry.
Bose says he'll always keep up with juggling. In fact, he plans on making juggling a side business once he retires, but for now Bose hopes the jobs in new construction come back. He says he needs the money and he'd love to be able to hire back his crew.
GUERRA: Bose isn’t alone. The recession has affected thousands of people’s jobs in the state. Russ Hicks from West Michigan got laid off at the factory warehouse where he had worked for 22 years.
And that’s not all. Shortly before he got laid off, his wife Carol was diagnosed with cancer and quickly passed away.
HICKS: I tell you right after Carol died I was completely rudderless and almost berserk.
NORRIS: To deal with his grief he got some counseling at a center called Lory's Place in St. Joseph. They offer traditional support groups, but they also offer art programs like journaling, scrap booking, painting and drama classes. Hicks signed up for a writing class. The teacher would give their class little writing prompts, things like:
HICKS: Write about a button for 10 minutes and I wrote about how my life was becoming, had been too buttoned down, now becoming unbuttoned, how many more buttons there were to be undone, how exciting and scary it was at the same time.
Hicks kept up with the writing and the memories began flooding back onto the page. Like the time his son Justin turned six and they threw a party at pizza place.
HICKS: He asked if he could bring some friends from school and we said sure.
So more and more kids kept showing up.
HICKS: I asked Justin how many kids he invited and he said the whole school. Our total bill was over $75, quite a lot in 1982. We never did that again.
OOMEN: One of the things I find in this world where so many things are going awry, is that we seem to need to tell our stories.
That’sAnne-Marie Oomen, she teaches writing at Interlochen Arts Academy. She says all kinds of people get comfort from writing about their lives.
In fact, Oomen says there are these "storytelling patterns," stories about identity or loss of innocence. She says these patterns comfort and reassure us.
OOMEN: Even though it may have been your story of losing your child, it's my story of losing my boyfriend. Or it's your story of surviving a divorce; it's my story of surviving an illness. And when we hear another person say that we say ‘Oh I have that one, too.’
Oomen says writing can be an act of compassion, because the writer wants the reader to understand what they've gone through. She also says that all great writing is about trying to speak the unspeakable and to say something about you and me that is ultimately inarticulate.
Hicks says the more he writes, the more old memories resurface, and that helps because it reminds him of all these good things that have happened to him. That gives him a sense of stability.
HICKS: As I'm remembering these things it's not like I'm cast into the sea adrift by myself with no control anymore, it felt like that for a long time. These memories are helping me to make connections between my past and my present and it's helping me come to grips more with how things are now.
NORRIS: Hicks has taken the writing workshop several times. He's also gone through the training to become a grief counselor, and he's been counseling teenagers helping them deal with their grief.
GUERRA: Coming up on the COST OF CREATIVITY: From teenage indie rockers to a beginning’s senior swing band, all kinds of people are coming up with creative solutions to Michigan’s economic problems.
NORRIS: That’s in five minutes...here on Michigan Radio.
GUERRA: This is the COST OF CREATIVITY on Michigan Radio. I’m Jennifer Guerra, here with Kyle Norris.
As school districts grapple with their budgets, often one of the first things cut is arts education. Jennifer Goulet with the arts advocacy group Artserve says they’re seeing a statewide trend of districts cutting programs like band, orchestra, and theatre. She says those programs should not be thought of as something “extra.”
GOULET: Because it’s really shaping young, creative thinkers; their academic line of thinking is completely impacted by that. So the arts early on in education create students who do better academically, creates students who work better as team members, creates students who have a stronger sense of giving back to community and being involved in community.
NORRIS: One woman from Kalamazoo, Sonya Hollins, thinks travel is a way to get kids’ creative juices flowing, to introduce kids to people they might not normally meet, and get them excited about the places they live.
KHABEIRY: We're going on a mystery train ride with the travel club.
NORRIS: That’s Claire Khabeiry. Like a lot of kids in the group she's never been on train before.
KHABEIRY: Right now we are in a train and it feels like we're going backwards because the seats are turned and we're seeing lots of trees and a few rows of cars, and construction areas.
On today's mystery trip, they’re traveling one stop over to Battle Creek, where they will visit several monuments for the Underground Railroad, Sojourner Truth's burial place, and a historical museum.
Club founder Sonya Hollins floats down the aisle chatting with the girls in their seats.
HOLLINS: You're going to learn a lot today! I’m telling you, when you get back on this train you're going to be a whole new person, you're going to be a historian about Battle Creek history.
Hollins is a journalist by trade and she started the girls travel club two years ago, somewhat unintentionally. Hollins had been researching a historical figure for a book she was going to write. That woman was Merze Tate.
Tate grew up in west Michigan the only black student in her class. Tate graduated with honors from Western Michigan University and later was the first African-American to graduate from Oxford University in 1932. Tate traveled the globe as a writer, and eventually became a teacher at an all-black high school in Indiana.
While there Tate started a travel club for her students. Fast-forward to a couple of years ago, when Sonya Hollins was flipping through the paper and an article caught her eye about how to keep kids in school.
HOLLIS: I thought traveling would be an awesome opportunity to get kids excited about the world around them and to expose them to some careers and people who have traveled and it would open their mind to the possibilities out there.
So, inspired by what she read about Merze Tate, Hollins got some help from friends, a $1,000-dollar grant, and created the Merze Tate travel club. Originally the club was for African American girls, but since that time, Hollins has opened-it-up to girls of all races. Hollins says she realized we all live in this world together and we need to learn how to travel and be friends together.
Since then, the club has toured the state capitol and had dinner with local politicians. They've studied quilting with experts and learned how to make and can applesauce. On one trip the girls visited Kalamazoo College. Hollins set it up so that the president of the college, Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran, was in the room when the girls arrived.
For every trip the girls take a pre-quiz and a post-quiz.
HOLLINS: They didn't even know who she was in the room and the quiz was, is the president male or female, African American or Caucasian? I think a couple guessed she was African American. No one guessed she was a woman. And so afterwards when I introduced her you could just see their eyes light up, like ‘Wow she's the president of this college.’
Member Zoe Emones is a big fan of the travel club and she thinks all kids should have this kind of experience.
EMONES: So that they can learn more about their community and their state and country.
NORRIS: Emones insists kids can't learn this kind of stuff from a TV show, and that traveling makes things "seem more real."
GUERRA: So, speaking of travel...I recently took a trip to Jackson. It’s like a lot of Michigan cities: the economy is in the tank, the unemployment rate is high, and stores continue to close, including the few places in town where teenagers were able to hear live music. I asked a couple kids what they do on a Friday night. Here’s what they said:
SWARTZ: People go to Meijer, I guess. You’re bored on a Friday night, so you go to Meijer. Ooh, this is fun. You get a Where’s Waldo book and you go to the food section and play cards.
NORRIS: Ok, so you’re stuck in Jackson, you want to hear music, but all the music venues closed. So what do you do? You turn to the one place that’s still open: The symphony.
GUERRA: On a Friday night, you’ll find the under-21 set filing into the Jackson Symphony Orchestra hall. But they're not here to listen to Bach or Beethoven. They're here to see bands like Jolly Roger Walrus and Cardboard Cathedral; it's part of a new concert series called Jammin’ at the JSO.
Before the first band has even finished doing sound check, there are already about 80 kids in the audience, including 17 year old Spencer McKenna:
MCKENNA: I think it's cool! I mean, I wish there was more stuff like this in Jackson.
McKenna says she usually has to drive to Pontiac, over an hour and a half away, to see a good indie rock show. Aaron Wilson found himself running up against the same problem.
MCKENNA: In bigger towns, there's a variety of local music shows and venues to go to,, but in Jackson there are only a few. Over the last years they all shut down.
So the 20-year old, who plays trumpet in a Jackson band called If I Were the Sun, teamed up with his band mate Wes Swartz, to look for venues.
They looked all over Jackson for a new place to play shows. Garages were out, they were too small. So the only venues left were a heavy metal club and an arts complex called the Armory Arts project. Swartz says the metal club wasn't a good fit genre wise, and the arts complex charged too much to play there.
So in a last ditch attempt, Aaron Wilson knocked on Mary Spring's door at the Jackson Symphony Orchestra. Spring is the orchestra's development director. She admits that when Wilson first approached her about hosting an indie rock concert for teenagers there, she was skeptical.
SPRING: People don't know what to do with a group of kids that want to hear alternative rock. They think of all different kinds of scenarios in their minds: ‘What am I going to do with these kids? How am I going to control them?’ Everybody likes to talk about youth, but when it comes right down to it what do you do with these kids?
But she eventually came around to the idea and offered Wilson and his friends the symphony orchestra hall one Friday a month for free, plus a four dollar cover charge to pay the bands. Spring says the first Jammin' at the JSO show was a huge success.
SPRING: I would like to say to people who might be considering this, other orchestras or whatever..the kids are so pleased to have an environment to go in. You just can't believe how well behaved and receptive they are.
Not to mention these kids could one day turn into ticket holding audience members at an actual JSO performance, so it's good PR.
As for 20 year old Wes Swartz, one of the guys behind the series, he just hopes the concerts are enough to keep people his age in Jackson.
SWARTZ: You know I've wanted to get out of this town for a really long time, but I recently started to reconsider. I mean, why don't people stay here? It's because we have nothing for people to stay for, you know.
NORRIS: So what’s Wes gonna do?
GUERRA: Well, he’s kind of a test case. Last semester he got accepted to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. So he says if the concert series is a big success, it might be enough to get him to move back to Jackson once he graduates. So it’s a shot.
NORRIS: Yeah, we’ll see. It will probably depend on where he finds a job after he graduates. Like most college students, he’ll probably have loans to pay off.
Tuition at a community college in Michigan for a semester is around a thousand dollars, up to five times that at the state’s bigger universities. Tuition is up at nearly every Michigan school. Plus the state cut the Michigan Promise Scholarship which awarded qualifying college students up to four-thousand dollars.
As a result, lots of students have to work or take out loans to pay for school.
GUERRA: In the northern Michigan town of Petoskey, a lot of college kids there pay for school by working at a place called Roast and Toast coffee shop. It’s a pretty typical, small town coffee shop – lots of local baked goods for sale, knick knacks on the wall, and of course the obligatory obscure indie band crooning through the speakers.
And what 60 year old Will Hosner might call “alternative-looking” baristas behind the counter:
HOSNER: Tattoos and piercings and hair color not found in human nature.
That’s in stark contrast to Hosner's cropped white hair, pressed blue jeans and button down shirt. Now, at first he didn't really know what to make of the baristas.
HOSNER: I won't say I dismissed them, but I looked past them.
But then, slowly, he started to get to know these 19 and 20-year old baristas behind the counter.
HOSNER: I would sit and talk to these young Americans and say, ‘Are you in school Rach?’ ‘No, not enough money this semester, I'm saving up; I'm going to go next semester.’ A lot of them were living semester to semester. But I also found out that they all had dreams and visions for their lives. And they were working hard, sometimes another job or two jobs. So I was inspired by that, by their integrity, and it was only natural for me to then say, ‘How can I help?’
So Hosner, an award winning artist, broke out his pastels and got to work. He posted a sign-up list at the coffee shop for any baristas who wanted to pop by the coffee shop after work and have their portraits drawn. He paid them $30 each to sit for four, 15-minute increments. No fancy clothes or backdrops. Just the baristas at the coffee shop, looking like themselves: T-shirts, funky knit caps, tattoos. The whole works.
After he created over a dozen lifelike portraits at Roast and Toast, he moved down to Traverse City and drew more barista portraits there.
Hosner's original plan was to put on art show, sell what he could, take half the proceeds and then donate the rest. But then he was contacted by someone from the Petoskey-Harbor Springs Community foundation:
HOSNER: He said if you can raise $10,000, we'll get a $1,000 a year scholarship going, and if you can raise more, we can make it bigger or offer more scholarships.
Hosner was sold. He teamed up with the Foundation to form the Cafe Society Educational Fund. It's a need-based college scholarship for anyone 18 or older who has worked in a northern Michigan independent coffee shop for at least one year.
All proceeds go to the foundation, and those who donate a $1,000 or more can take home one of the framed portraits:
CAMPBELL: I think it's really cool that he'd go on to do that. It seems just unheard of, but it was really cool of him to do that. It was awesome.
Dan Campbell has been a barista at Roast & Toast for almost four years. When Hosner started drawing portraits for the Cafe Society series a couple years ago, Campbell was one of the first baristas to sign up.
CAMPBELL: It was crazy. I mean looking at it now, I had a beard and a big yellow hat with a ball on the end, all different colors. I was a different person then, lip ring and everything. I mean, I thought it was really cool. To see me on paper like that was really cool, and I actually use it as my Facebook picture.
The first official Cafe Society scholarship will be handed out to one lucky student this fall.
NORRIS: A lot of people say making music with others is a way that they can connect, plus it’s also pretty fun. But for some adults, music provides an escape from real problems in their lives, like financial stress.
At a church basement in Grand Rapids, the Beginners Swing Band is warming up. Most of the musicians here are in their sixties and seventies.
Pat Conlon plays the big baritone sax in the group. He played clarinet growing up. Then stopped for 25 years, and got back into music when he retired ten years ago. Conlon says playing music with people is a blast.
CONLON: It is totally distracting. No matter what’s going on in your life when you’re playing music nothing else is in your head. It’s like a big tranquilizer for a lot of us, just plain fun!
And he could use some fun. Right now, Conlon has some money problems on his hands.
CONLON: Well I'm like most folks: I got great big hits in my IRA accounts pushing us right up against the wall, so we're very unhappy campers financially now, but this is away from all that.
SUMMERS-MEEUSEN: So many of us took a hit in the stock market, but what are you going to do? Are you going to sit there and covet your little piece of the pie or are you going to make yourself happy?"
Nancy Summers-Meeusen directs the West Michigan New Horizons Music Ensembles and the swing band is a part of that group. New Horizons is an international organization where seniors learn to play instruments together and there are ten chapters in Michigan.
Summers Meeusen says she has seen people gravitate to music despite some tough situations. In the past, they've had musicians in their group who were homeless, yet managed to pick up an instrument on the cheap, and pay membership fees not with money, but by doing office work for the group.
Music certainly makes Eilene Riggs happy. She lives in a log cabin in Saline and plays trombone. In the summer, she practices on her front porch. She played trombone for a short time in high school and loved it, but didn't play after that.
Still, music captured her heart from afar.
RIGGS: Oh when I'd see a band I'd say we've got to stop and listen to this band! If there was a parade I had to be there to listen to it. Because that was just the drum beat made my heart race. I just loved the music, I'd hear the trombones and think, oh boy, I want to do that again. I want to do that so bad.
Riggs bought a trombone at a garage sale and began playing with a New Horizons band in Saline.
Music has helped Riggs offset recent losses in her life. Her husband lost his job and she had to quit work in order to help care for her grandchildren. So her family has made some big life changes including cutting back on travel. But Riggs says music can take her places.
RIGGS: Some of the music, for instance some of the marches, we did one march that was a Mexican march, and I traveled to Mexico once and it made me feel like I was in Mexico again.
Music also literally takes her places. Riggs went to band camp for adults last year, at Interlochen near Traverse City. She says the experience was magical. She says it was the high point of her life.
GUERRA: As we look to reinvent Michigan, these stories are a reminder that not only do the arts provide comfort and diversion for people in tough situations…but the arts can also be used as an economic engine, a tool to create revenue and attract businesses and people to Michigan.
NORRIS: And who knows, one day you might even turn to the arts for a little extra cash.
PETRIE: If you would've asked me a year ago if I'd was going to have a loom and weave rugs, I would have thought you were crazy.
GUERRA: You’ve been listening to the COST OF CREATIVITY on Michigan Radio. All the music on today’s show performed by Michigan musicians: Luke Winslow-King, Ben Benjamin…
NORRIS: Midwest Product and The Red Sea Pedestrians. Vincent Duffy was our editor. I’m Kyle Norris.
GUERRA: And I’m Jennifer Guerra.
FUNDIE: Support for arts and cultural reporting on Michigan Radio comes in part from a grant from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts. This documentary is a production of Michigan Radio, a broadcasting service of the University of Michigan.