Chelsea Arts Initiative committed to revitalizing the local arts scene

The Chelsea Arts Initiative (CAI) grew in response to voices in the Chelsea Community that expressed a longing for the cultural arts that once inhabited the community in the mid-late 1990s.

For more than a decade, Chelsea was a vibrant, energetic visual and performing arts community. The history of Arts during this time included art businesses both profit and nonprofit – Chelsea Center for the Arts (CCA), Chelsea Gallery, Gallery 100 (Silver Maples), River Gallery, SculptureWalk Chelsea, Chelsea Art Market, Chelsea School District Arts Programs, Chelsea Painters, Chelsea Artist Guild, and several pop-ups throughout Chelsea.

During this period, the diversity and quality of art gave Chelsea the distinction of being an extraordinary cultural community to live and visit! Circa 2010, Chelsea was visited by the National Endowment for the Arts and showcased as a model community that displayed the benefits of “Creative Placemaking.”

Creative Placemaking is a community that intentionally leverages the power of the arts, culture, and creativity to serve their economic interest; a community simultaneously driving a broader plan for change, growth, and transformation in a way that builds character and quality of place.

As a result of the financial crisis in 2008, most of the brick-and-mortar art businesses closed. While there are fewer places and overt reasons to gather around the arts, the artists and boundless soul of creativity remain. That is the backdrop to how CAI emerged and took shape.

Patti Schwarz, Co-Owner of the River Gallery, said she felt a need to seek out and identify what remained of the visual arts. So, in 2019, Schwarz took the initiative to meet numerous artists, arts organizations, community members, business owners, and community leaders. Organizations she met with include Silver Maples (Gallery 100), Chelsea Artists Guild, Chelsea Community Center. And had conversations with Mayor Melissa Johnson, Marsi Darwin, and Breathe Yoga owner Susan Whitmarsh. “The arts community was still there; it was simply decentralized and needed a way to reconnect,” commented Schwarz.

As a result of the insights, learnings, history sharing, and with a lot of encouragement from the Chelsea community, CAI is taking shape. A cultural heart transplant is about to happen!

CAI has created a public group Facebook Page for community creatives to share their stories, events, artistic ideas. Embedded in the Facebook Page is a Google Questionnaire to collect information about the creative community. The data will become part of a centralized “ART HUB” directory for all things cultural art—a first step toward advocating, unifying, and strengthening Chelsea’s cultural arts community. The vision includes engaging with the larger regional creative community, including Creative Washtenaw, to support Chelsea’s Arts Community.

Early on in the process, Susan Badger Booth was an instrument architect and mentor. Booth is a Professor and Program Director of Arts and Entertainment Management/Arts Administration at Eastern Michigan University (EMU). Booth also teaches cultural planning courses and has chosen CAI as an “applied project” for her Fall course 2021.

Booth advised Schwarz to revisit the 2010 Cultural Arts Working Plan for the City of Chelsea. At that time, the Arts Alliance of Washtenaw County partnered with Chelsea Community Leaders and conducted a “Cultural Art Census.” As a result, a “Chelsea Working Plan” was developed and presented but was not implemented.

In early 2020, Booth offered to come back for a 10-year check-in, facilitate another community forum and provide an updated Cultural Plan. Schwarz is working through the details and timing for when this effort may be reengaged.

The core CAI group contributors are involved and committed to revitalizing the arts. CAI contributors include Sandra Xenaxis, Director, Art Meets Business and artist coach for the (EIR) Entrepreneur in Residence program at Washtenaw Community College, Bridget Favre and Doris Galvin of D&B Strategic Marketing. John Pappas of 12 Acres Studio and community volunteer Jacquie Bullerman helped shape the initiative and translated it into peoples’ minds. Susan Pickering Rothamel, artist and founder of Alternative Arts and Business Learning Environment (AABLE), collaborates with Independence Hall at Chelsea High School. AABLE’s mission is to provide opportunities for young people who have special needs and are employable. Crystal Scott, M.F.A., Visual Arts Coordinator, Chelsea Area Festivals & Events, was also part of the brainstorming with Schwarz from the very beginning. Additional guidance will be provided by Trevor Stone, NEW Center, Aubrey Martinson, previous director of the Chelsea Center for the Arts, and Purple Rose Theatre.

That brings us to where we are today. Katy Tinsley, a Chelsea resident, recently jumped into the fray in a big way, helping with social media and outreach to other community members and leaders.

Tinsley is making things happen! She launched a pilot program, “Doodle Days.” It’s a community meet-up for folks who want a safe, free, and fun activity—hosted by the Chelsea District Library at the reading garden, north side of the lawn. Doodle Days is open to all ages and will be held on Saturday, June 19, and June 26, from 11 am- 2 pm. To learn more, go to CAI’s Facebook Page and the Chelsea Library’s Events Page.

The organization will seek funding to support the permanent work to ensure the “heart transplant patient” stays healthy and vibrant. There is a strong thread in community building and mental health, and intergenerational opportunities. Continuing the relationship with the City of Chelsea and crucial regional support from Creative Washtenaw are essential collaborative partnerships.

To learn more, contact either Patti Schwarz (734)395-1540, or Katy Tinsley (734) 709-2594.