In Traverse City, just south of the main library, there’s a stretch of road called the Woodmere Corridor. For years, this area has been associated with some empty factories, industrial warehouses and weeded-over train tracks. But there’s a new energy on Woodmere these days. New artist studios are popping up. Old buildings are getting a facelift. And some serious artists are finding each other.
The exterior of the Traverse City Art & Design Studio is pretty industrial. It’s painted, white cinderblock. It looks like it could be any of the many old factories along this section of road. But inside, it’s a different story. Everything has been cleaned, scrubbed, painted and polished.
Carol Buck owns the building along with Mark O’Shaughnessy. When they were shopping around for space, they knew what they weren’t looking for: a precious, little art gallery.
Carol says, “What attracted us (to Woodmere) was that the size of the buildings are bigger. You know, so many of the galleries are in smaller spaces and closer in to downtown and you just can’t display the type of art that we wanted to display and have the room to have a studio where artists could actually work.”
A Really Big Show
The Traverse City Art & Design Studio is about 5,000-square feet. The ceilings are 14-feet high. Large, contemporary art hangs from museum-quality hardware. And two big garage doors enter right into the main space for the loading in of big works.
Artists are currently delivering works for the studio’s first major show opening October 5th. It’s called “Really Big Art.” And the requirement is – well, you guessed it. Artists can work in the space. And there’s room to gather. In fact, that’s one of the goals for the new studio. Co-owner Carol Buck had noticed that typical art galleries aren’t real gathering places for the artists themselves. So, she invited some in.
Carol says, “All of the artists ended up in the center of the room just sitting in chairs and talking to each other and they were so excited because they never really get to see each other that much and they were like, “Oh my gosh, when can we do this again.”
The Traverse City Art & Design Studio encourages contemporary artists who create edgy art. Cedar artist John O’Neill is showing his work at the gallery. John paints in various styles. But he describes some of his art as “disturbing.” Like his paintings of menacing Kalishnikov guards and self-portraits in which he seems to stare down the viewer.
John says, “Those are paintings that, quite frankly, don’t appeal to the tourist trade so much and so it’s refreshing to find a gallery in Traverse City that has the kind of aesthetic that you’d see in New York or Chicago.”
Some artists feel like too many art events in Traverse City aren’t really about art or artists. O’Neill feels like some of these events are more social gathering than art exhibit.
John says, “I’ve been at shows that combined wine and art and frankly, you know, the wine is what people are there for. Most people who go to those events stay in the wine tent and they’re not really art lovers so much as wine lovers and there’s a few of them who like art. They’re also an entertainment venue ‘cause there’s a band going constantly.”
Living and Working
The train still goes up and down Woodmere. And there are still many older buildings and several lots that need weeding and mowing. But artists, new business owners – and city planners – are seeing more vigor in the neighborhood thanks to zoning changes that were made in 2005. City Planner Russ Soyring doesn’t claim to have predicted an art renaissance when the zoning was changed. In fact, he wasn’t sure what would happen. But he was following the lead of other city planners around the country who see the benefits of “multi-use” zoning.
Russ says, “The separating of uses really created some real, real inherent problems and one is that you always have to drive everywhere to go anywhere and that causes all sorts of automobile congestion and subsequently air pollution and a degrading of the community quality but if you can have uses that are in walking distance and biking distance of each other then there are some real advantages.”
The changes mean that an artist can set up a professional studio and live right in that space. Like painter William Hosner. His studio-home is a few doors north of Carol and Mark’s studio in the Tru-Fit Trouser Building. And Hosner has no desire to separate his work from his life.
William says, “You know, some people say to me, ‘Well, don’t you need to get away from your work?’ and I say, ‘No, no, I don’t want to get away from my work.’ You know, I think about paintings at night. I think about what I’m working on and when I’m going out the next day and I’m very comfortable having my home be half-studio and half-home.”
The live/work arrangement is attractive to many kinds of artists. Hosner’s building also houses the Floral Underground. That’s the floral studio of Derek Woodruff who gained national attention when he appeared on the floral design competition show “The Arrangement.” He makes arrangements for Hosner’s exhibit openings. And Scott Wilson, whose Vada-Color studio digitizes images of artists’ work.
Hosner says, “It’s very convenient just to walk down three doors, which I did this afternoon, I handed over ten new paintings and said, ‘Here, photograph them,’ and that relieves me to focus more on the creative and the painting itself.”
While there’s new life in some of the old factories and warehouses along Woodmere, their exteriors still look pretty nondescript. When I visited the Traverse City Art & Design Studio, the owners had to flag me down so I wouldn’t drive past it. But they think they’ve solved that problem. They’ve started a Kickstarter campaign to hire John O’Neill to paint a distinct mural on the building’s exterior. It’s a giant Slinky, snaking around the building’s exterior.