No, it’s not math, it’s art, according to Traverse City’s Arts for All
By Jillian Manning | September 3, 2022
Martial Arts. Juggling. Introduction to improvisation. Drone flight. Engraving.
It looks like a list of optional courses in a catalog of university courses, doesn’t it? Arts for All of Northern Michigan will do you better: These are just a sampling of the classes they offer for people of all ages, interests, and abilities. (And you’ll save a ton on tuition, since most courses are between $10 and $35.)
The non-profit organization was originally started as a branch of Artists Creating Together, an organization that empowers people with disabilities to learn, grow and celebrate through the arts. Today, Arts for All celebrates 25 years in the North, with the past few years focusing on expanding the reach of its programming.
“Over the years, having all the knowledge to be inclusive and accessible, we have opened up our organization,” says Executive Director Sue Cronover. “Our new mission – we have just completed our five-year strategic plan – is to provide arts education and cultural experiences to connect people of all abilities. …Art is the universal language we all share when we create together.
The new Arts for All vision is focused on building community in their five-county region of Grand Traverse, Benzie, Antrim, Leelanau and Kalkaska. It means bringing people from all walks of life together to forge meaningful connections, express creativity, and develop more spaces in our region that feel safe and accessible.
Of course, the primary way to achieve these goals is through the arts, although Arts for All’s approach is certainly not unique. In fact, it’s part of the call; they have a wide variety of courses offered for a wide range of participants. Board co-chair Ellie Vratanina explains that Arts for All is planning fall and winter programming related to fine arts, music, dance, storytelling and poetry, so as not to to name a few.
“We have top-notch teacher artists,” she says. “You might discover a talent in yourself that you didn’t even know you had, or [a class] might encourage you to continue in certain mediums that you weren’t even interested in. … It’s so accessible and welcoming that you don’t have to feel like you’re not talented enough to join or that you’re not going to fit in.
But Arts for All goes beyond its name, expanding past artistic endeavors into games and fitness with opportunities for yoga, martial arts and bowling. There are even virtual reality courses to explore new worlds behind a helmet.
Cronover says these “access programs” are a chance to “take arts education on the road,” to get out of the same old environment and broaden horizons.
“We were like, ‘Hey, we’re in an art-enriched community in these five counties. Let’s have these other opportunities outside of the studio,'” she explains.
Another extremely popular offering from the non-profit organization is a quarterly dance, including a ball.
“Our dances are probably our most popular event,” says Vratanina. “We have about five a year…we have a DJ, and there are fun lights and decorations. We had between 40 and 120 participants in the dances. This is something all of our attendees look forward to.
Speaking of happy campers, there were some in July when Arts for All offered its first-ever series of summer camps. The agenda included everything from claymation to street dancing to cross-cultural art projects.
Cronover says the idea was inspired by her own struggles getting her daughter into summer camps in the area, many of which have dwindled since the pandemic or shut down altogether. The camp was billed as an “inclusive arts education camp for all ages and abilities” and offered one week for participants aged 6-11, another for 12-16 and a third for 17-year-olds. and more.
“We wanted to start small to fix bugs and figure everything out. And it was a huge success, so everyone wants to do it next year,” she says, adding that they hope to go from one month of camps to all summer for 2023.
Even as Arts for All opens its doors to more and more participants, it is important to note that the original population they aimed to serve – people with disabilities – has remained at the heart of their programming. Cronover tells us about a 10-year program called Art Escapes with Northwest Education Services (formerly TBAISD) that has had a huge impact on students enrolled in special education.
“In autumn, [our team] recruits and trains local teacher artists in all different artistic mediums. From January to May, they receive art education in all special education classrooms in Grand Traverse County. … There are so many wonderful classes, and without this program, without this collaboration, these special education classes would not have this opportunity.
Cronover says the six- to eight-week workshops — which are also available for alternative and general education classes — offer experiences like pottery, music therapy, stop-motion animation, mixed media, and more. The aim is to provide an outlet for healthy self-expression, as well as for students to develop new skills and bond with their peers.
After a decade of successful and rewarding courses, Art Escapes is poised to expand, and Cronover plans to find collaborative opportunities to offer similar courses in other counties in the region.
A new summer camp and the possibility of expanding the Art Escapes program aren’t the only big changes to the organization’s plate. For years, Arts for All has called the Tru Fit Trouser complex in Traverse City home. When their owners decided to make changes to the space, the nonprofit had to scramble to find a new location that could support its wide range of services.
They landed in the old Blackbird Arts building, which Vratanina says is perfect for them, especially since they’re now next door to ClaySpace, a ceramics studio that often hosts Arts for All classes.
This week, Arts for All celebrates its new dig at 1485 Barlow St. in TC with an open house on September 9 from 4-7 p.m. Refreshments, snacks and family arts activities will be offered along with information about upcoming classes and programs.
Vratanina hopes the event will not only bring new faces, but also bring new attention to the work the nonprofit does. “I think our biggest challenge, as is the case with all nonprofits, is funding,” she says, noting that low course prices don’t do much to offset the fees. overhead for staff, building space and teachers’ fees.
Whether it’s volunteering, board service, courses or donations, “The more people who understand what we do, the more passionate and able they can be to support us in a one way or another,” concludes Vratanina.
Learn more about artsforallnmi.org. And be sure to keep an eye out for this winter’s Have a Heart Art Mart, which will feature the work of over 30 local artists in different mediums as a fundraising-slash-vacation-shopping extravaganza in the new space. ‘Arts for All.