A former member of Artists North, the once-vibrant group which got its start in the 1970s, Dinning, as well as Northern Michigans arts community, has learned to evolve.
Formed in 1975, Artists North was the most widely known artist group in Northern Michigan at the time, promoting artists from Antrim, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
In the early 70s a few of us got together and each of us had been pretty much isolated and we thought that we were the only artists in Michigan, says Dick Cunningham, one of Artists Norths founding members. We didnt realize there were enough people to be an art community so we got together to form this group to mutually support each other and have a loose-knit professional organization and social group.
Artists North offered holiday tours and demonstrations to promote one-of-a-kind gift giving, as well as group health insurance to its members.
We all showed at the various art fairs around, remembers Cunningham, and we had the most wonderful potlucks in Northern Michigan when we had our meetings.
A regional collectors guide with information and pictures of many Northern Michigan artists and their work was published in 1978. Dinning was known for her wearable metal crafts and fiber arts.
We lasted actively for a few years, says Cunningham, but as we got busy raising children, and having various other obligations, we kind of faded out.
In the mid-80s, members of the old Artists North reconvened and opened their first co-op gallery, Off-Bridge Street Artists, on Antrim Street in Charlevoix.
One artist cant afford to rent the space, but we could handle paying the rent and our utilities, says former member, Linda Aydlott. Most of us lived out in the boonies all over Timbuktu Northern Michigan and it was a place to meet and sell other than art fairs.
With a designated bookkeeper and a set working schedule, each artist worked the store about two days per month. It was easy to work around the art shows that way, says Aydlott. We were all young artists, so we werent that established.
The co-op was renamed Bridge Street Gallery when the store moved to Charlevoixs main thoroughfare. Charlevoix is a wonderful place where people would wander the streets after dinner, remembers Aydlott. We did really well.
Increasing rent and busier lives put a strain on the artists and business. After nine years, Bridge Street Gallery closed its doors.
Artist communities and co-ops of the past were vital to artists survival, but todays artists have more choices. Many area galleries represent artists on consignment or buy pieces for resale. Widespread summer art fairs help with name recognition and sales. But theres no denying an artists life is still a tough one.
Its a solitary existence, Dinning says, of working long hours in her studio Good Hart Glassworks alone. The price of propane has gone up exponentially and many glass artists have closed up shop.
Its hard for artists to make a living anymore, admits jewelry artist, Aydlott, who owns Sacred Sparks, in East Jordan with her photographer husband, Jerry.
Dick Cunningham continues to sell his own functional pottery at local galleries in the area: C2 gallery in Charlevoix, Northern Michigan Artists Market in Petoskey and Sweet Grass Gallery in Boyne City.
There are a lot more places to sell your art, says Dinning, who promotes her glasswork at galleries all over Northern Michigan, on the web at www.artistsnorth.com and at art fairs all summer long. We have some very motivated, fine artists and art galleries where the owners are involved in the arts.
KEEPING THE ARTS ALIVE
Michigans sagging economy and cancellation of arts and school funding will further impact area arts. Artists are retiring and not being replaced, explains Dinning. We need to get back to teaching that in schools.
Competing with inexpensive Chinese imports is difficult and the value of higher cost, original art is lost on many.
A lot of the artists are involved in educating to keep people involved in the arts, explains Dinning, who gives demonstrations at her studio and even recorded a video in 2005 to explain more about her craft. The mission here is to show the connection between science, art and history. Im a lot about education, she admits. If I could make a living doing art education I would.