March 1, 2024

Frankfort's OAC Opens Up the Possibilities

Oliver Art Center expands creative space and offerings for young artists and families
By Ross Boissoneau | Aug. 24, 2019

Oliver Art Center in Frankfort is expanding, but not with more space. Instead, it has begun utilizing its library in a new way, establishing a permanent community creative space for young artists and their families to explore.

“We’ve always had a library, but it’s been completely underutilized,” said Mercedes Michalowski, the art center’s executive director. “It never got off the ground.”
Consider liftoff achieved. The library has been outfitted with additional furnishings, materials for young artists, and a new mission. “This space will assist in helping an underserved part of the local population: parents with young, preschool age kids, as well as older kids,” said Michalowski.
The program had its genesis in two drop-in days this past winter, where kids could engage in various art projects, free of charge. The first found 20 kids taking advantage of the space; by the time the art center hosted a second one a month later, participation had doubled.
Molly Harrison joined the art center’s board a year ago, and was immediately involved in the push for the creative space. “I think all of us (on the board) and Mercedes felt the need to get the community more involved,” she said. “We had a holiday party in December, with a room of arts and crafts, Santa and Mrs. Claus, a hot cocoa bar. It was a huge success.”
She said while Frankfort is a great place to live, it can feel isolated, especially in the winter. She saw a need for more opportunities for families to gather that were free of charge. “We wanted Oliver Art Center to be in the mix. We knew we had room that was not really being utilized.”
A grant from the Grand Traverse Regional Foundation enabled the art center to purchase additional equipment, supplies and furniture, with the goal of opening the space to budding young artists. The community space will be open all year during regular business hours and features comfortable seating for both adults and kids; books, puzzles, games geared to all ages; curated, self-guided art projects; and display space for budding young artists.
Michalowski said youngsters are welcome anytime the gallery is open, such as after school, though they have to be accompanied by an adult if they’re under 12. “We’ve had some people spend the whole day. On beautiful days it’s pretty empty, but on rainy days it’s full. One family has been here two times this week,” said Michalowski.
While the new materials have given the space new life, the library has not been abandoned. If anything, Michalowski sees it as becoming better utilized as more people come in to the space. Patrons can peruse books on art, artists, and museums. “There are books about the history of art, children’s books about Matisse and Frida Kahlo, famous artist puppets … they can get immersed in creating,” Michalowski said.
But is it really a good thing to have kids in a gallery? Michalowski certainly thinks so. “In a lot of museums, people have their hands in their pockets, don’t talk … having kids’ voices in the hallways doesn’t bother us. If they’re introduced to art at an early age, they’ll grow up with an appreciation [for it].”

And while the kids can explore on their own, parents aren’t left twiddling their thumbs. Said Harrision: “There’s also Wi-Fi so parents can come, do work, or read while the kids are creating.”
She’s proof of its success. While her daughter and family were visiting from Alabama, she took her two young granddaughters to the new creative space at the art center. “It was a lot of fun to take them over there. They went downstairs, to the gallery,” she said. “It’s a great way to introduce them [to art.]”
Elizabeth Lane Oliver Center for the Arts was originally founded in 1948 as Crystal Lake Art Center. It has moved buildings three times, most recently in 2011when it moved into the renovated U.S. Coast Guard Station at the mouth of the Betsie Bay. That followed a capital campaign involving 331 donors which totaled over $3.4 million. It was at that time rebranded as the Elizabeth Lane Oliver Center for the Arts, named for Elizabeth Oliver, the wife of Dr. Paul Oliver, who was herself an artist and a patron of the arts.
Its three floors include two exhibition galleries, three classrooms, a demonstration kitchen, office space, storage and artwork preparation space, an outdoor deck, and ceramics studio space, all of which are accessible to people with disabilities. The facility was awarded LEED “platinum” certification, the highest possible, in 2013, as well as Michigan Historic Preservation Network’s 2014 “Building Award.”
Michalowski said the center is continuing to welcome both monetary and materials donations. Want to help? OAC has made it easy with an Amazon wish list. Check it out at


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