October 21, 2014

NEMAC celebrates 30 years

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STANDISH — Over the years, the Northeast Michigan Arts Council has brought in special musical and artistic guests, has put on programs for the community and has brought together long-lasting groups of artistic individuals.

The NEMAC hit its 30th anniversary this year, and it has brought a diverse array of arts and culture to the community, setting it apart from other arts councils in the Bay Area.

“A lot of arts councils are strictly visual arts,” said Gail Schmidt, executive director of the NEMAC.

Schmidt has been a part of the NEMAC since its beginnings in 1980, and she and her husband were both interested in the project of creating a council since they had been part of a theater group in Waterford before moving to the Standish area.

Two major groups were the core of the arts council at the beginning — the Rifle River Valley Players and the Arenac Choraleers.

A choral group originally formed under the direction of Maynard King in 1976 and was revived in 1980 as the Choraleers, Schmidt said.

Six years later, the arts council purchased the property on Gove and U.S.-23 where the NEMAC remains to this day.

“It was $130,000, and we had $2,000 in our treasury,” Schmidt said.

Through a $90,000 grant from the Michigan Equity Program and a slightly lowered price on the facility, the NEMAC was able to purchase hat was once an old Polish Catholic church.

The late ‘80s also brought an end to the local theater group, The Rifle River Valley Players.

Schmidt said the break-up began as those involved started getting married, having children and experiencing other life changes that took them away from the theater group.

“What I’m glad to see is the schools stepping up,” Schmidt said, citing the plays and musicals that are currently performed each year by local schools in Arenac County.

Schmidt also explained some programs that the arts council has put on for the schools over the years, one of which was “art on a cart,” where the council would come into classrooms to give art lessons.

Since 1990, the arts council has also put on a summer art camp for 8- to 13-year-olds.

“It’s a good deal for the kids,” Schmidt said.

One of Schmidt’s favorite programs was a mother-daughter art program for mothers and their daughters ages 3-8.

In recent years, the NEMAC — like other arts councils in the state — has lost major funding that it depends on to function.

Schmidt said the state used to have $20 million for arts councils under the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.

The program was cut, reinstated and subsequently cut a second time in the past few years, leaving the NEMAC completely dependent on memberships, donations and the upcoming Auction for the Arts on May 23.

“That’s going to make or break us,” Schmidt said of the auction.

Even with grants being pulled out from under the arts council, it has remained rooted in the area for the past 30 years. It continues to bring diversity and culture in all areas of the arts to the Standish area and the rest of Arenac County.

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