By Robert Downes
Walk into the new ArtisanDesign Network Cooperative Gallery on Front Street in downtown Traverse City and its not hard to imagine that youre in an upscale gallery in New York City or Chicago.
The new gallery is a bold yet thoughtful venture embarked upon by more than 40 of the regions top artists and artisans. Committed to the exhibition of fine art, the gallery aims to elevate Northern Michigans art scene into the rare air of national significance.
In other words, dont expect to find Petoskey stone knick-knacks, paintings of old barns, faux impressionist harbor scenes and other staples of the Northern Michigan art scene. The gang at the ArtisanDesign Network are gunning for glory with serious art, and are laying serious cash on the line to see that their work reaches the public.
Weve got a jury process for every artist whod like to join the co-op, says painter Daniel Lisuk, who serves as spokesman for the group. Artists must submit a portfolio for consideration and the jury is very strict as to who becomes a member. Even once youre a member, each piece on the floor must be juried; you cant just bring out your old college stuff and hang it here.
Artists who are accepted for membership pay dues of $50 per month and then rent floor space at $5 per square foot in increments of up to 50 square feet.
Thats fairly expensive, but it insures that we get artists who believe in themselves, because when you make that commitment, youre investing in yourself, Lisuk says.
He adds that an additional 10% of sales goes to the support of the gallery and each member takes a monthly turn at staffing the floor. Lisuk says the 10% gallery commission is exceptionally low, considering that the norm in Traverse City averages 40% and a Chicago gallery may keep as much as 60% of an artists asking price for a work.
Those funds go toward supporting a prime location in the heart of downtown: the former Stewart-Zacks fabric store located at 118 East Front. Its a classy setting which benefits from the spillover of TC Opera House events as well as fronting a downtown crosswalk. People crossing the street at this end of town are led right to our door, Lisuk says.
Rick Paid, a fine woods merchant who owns Rare Earth Hardwoods on M 72-West, is credited with launching the co-op.
Paid creates amazingly intricate tables of interlocking wood patterns and veneers, with materials drawn from sustainable forests he owns in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon. Last fall, he became aware that the Stewart-Zacks building had become available and began contacting area artists and craftspersons of distinction with the idea of launching a co-op gallery.
That led to exploratory meetings, tours of the building and a board of directors. Today, the gallery is in high gear, averaging 600-800 visitors per week with perhaps 250 on weekends.
Theres some consideration being given to expanding the venture to include evening soirees with music, wine and munchies. We want it to be a cool place where people want to gather, Lisuk says. Stylish, but also welcoming.
So, whos shopping for fine art in TC? Eighty percent of buyers tend to be from out of town, Lisuk says, but there are also a lot of locals building new homes who want quality art. Typically, a buyer might be a person who travels a lot to Chicago or New York and recognizes quality art, along with the fact that theyre getting a really nice price here in Traverse City. We have a much lower price point here for art than what youll find in a big city gallery.
A resident of Leland, Lisuk served as an art teacher with Traverse City schools for more than 32 years. He was head of the systems art department for 22 years of his tenure.
I retired three years ago specifically to make art, he says. Its difficult to teach art and make art at the same time because as a teacher youre making hundreds of decisions each day and it can influence your own work.
Lisuk paints and draws with the novel medium of tar.
I started my education with geology as a major and to me, tar is literally liquid history because it started out as oil and the compression of fossils, he says. Youre painting with five million years of history.
Each artist in the co-op brings a similarly eclectic perspective. Sculptor Bill Allen, for instance, is renowned for his lifelike bird and animal sculptures, but at the gallery, hes chosen to exhibit his new direction with abstract art.
One hallmark of this place is that everyone here is in love with their materials, Lisuk notes.
The ArtisanDesign Network Cooperative Gallery will hold its Grand Opening this Friday, June 18 from 6-9 p.m. with food, wine and all welcome. The gallery is located at 118 E. Front Street, TC. Hours are Mon.-Thurs. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sun. noon-6 p.m. Info: firstname.lastname@example.org.