From the outside, Great Lakes Artworks may simply appear to a passerby as a place that sells art. After all, that’s technically what an art gallery is.
Darrell Taylor, director of the University of Northern Iowa Gallery of Art, states that an art gallery is any space that seeks to present art forms.
Great Lakes Artworks fits this definition. However, it is also so much more than that.
Great Lakes Artworks has been an artist owned cooperative gallery since 2011. Roger Nowland, an artist as well as the manager, shed some light on what this means.
“Six years ago the gallery went from a single owner to being taken over by a group of artists,” Nowland said. “All of the artists at the gallery pay rent for a space, and they work a shift a couple of times a month.”
As it is a cooperative, the artists are not paid for the shifts they work at the gallery. Rather, they volunteer their time, which keeps the gallery open. Since the artists volunteer for shifts in the gallery, they do not have to pay a staff to work. This helps to keep the rent on their spaces lower.
The cooperative style also creates a connection between artists.
Ursula Hoppe, a landscape photographer, loves the interactions with other artists.
“There’s such a sense of camaraderie,” Hoppe said. There’s a lot of sharing between photographers. We share places we’ve gone, the experiences we’ve had. There’s also a lot of learning about other people’s art and what they do.”
Taylor said that cooperative galleries often provide artists with a place to work through and sell their current pieces. They sometimes provide artists with the opportunity to share ideas as well as get feedback on their work.
The gallery possesses a sense of community for those who sell their work there.
Katie Woodman, an artist of 52 years, has only been selling her work at the gallery for a short time, but already she feels the community aspect.
“I’ve been selling my work here for the past six months,” Woodman said. “I live in Old Town and one day I walked by and thought this place was really cool. Here you’re part of a community of artists, and you’re invested in everyone’s success.”
Hoppe, who has been selling her work at Great Lakes Artworks for two years, can feel that sense of community as well.
“There is such an all inclusiveness here,” Hoppe said. “Everyone is so warm and welcoming.”
Deb Cholewicki, manager of Grove Gallery and Studios in East Lansing, said that these are the goals of a co-op.
“Artists support each other. They promote each other,” Cholewicki said. “And ideally, they share in the day to day responsibilities of running the gallery.”
Great Lakes Artworks is unique in that all of the artists are from Michigan, and almost all of them are from the Lansing area.
Cholewicki said that not all galleries are so localized.
“Many galleries carry work from artists from all over,” Cholewicki said. “For example, Mackerel Sky [Gallery of Contemporary Craft] in East Lansing has work from artists in various states.”
Cholewicki added, however, that she believes the ideas of buying local and supporting the community are becoming more ingrained in society.
For a gallery to be successful, it has to be about more than just the art..
“Attracting people is of course important, but it’s not just about art,” Cholewicki said. “It’s also about relationship building. You need to have an amazing customer connection and go that extra mile. That’s crucial to the success of any small gallery.”
Everything sold at Great Lakes Artworks, from jewelry to candles to pottery to soap, is handmade.
“Nothing is imported and put together,” Woodman said. “A lot of the stuff here is made with materials from Michigan. I make my artwork out of recycled things. I go to thrift shops, and I use stuff that people were going to throw away.”
In keeping with the local, Michigan vibe, Hoppe takes scenic photographs all over the state.
“What we are selling are products made in Michigan that we truly believe in,” Nowland said.