GTPulse: New Traverse City Nonprofit Will Spotlight Diverse Artists

Shanny Brooke, owner of Higher Art Gallery in Traverse City wasn’t being cheeky when she named her gallery. When I hinted at the name having a suggestive reference to smoking weed she laughed.

“It’s not really all that exciting, and it has nothing to do with that at all. I did, as kind of a test, this three-day-long pop-up at Echo during film fest in 2014.”

She had gathered art from 50 different artists to display, and she was curious to see how the Traverse City community would react to contemporary art.

“I was trying to come up with a name for the event and my friend Rick is like a marketing guru guy. He’s like, ‘since it’s during film festival weekend, I’m thinking of that movie High Art.”

The 90s’ movie ended up being the inspiration for the name of the pop-up, Higher Art, and it’s the name she chose to keep when she opened her own gallery on Union Street.

Shanny has been an advocate for Union street businesses and now she’s advocating for something new; giving more artists with diverse backgrounds, and unconventional art an opportunity to show their work at the gallery through her nonprofit Project CivilARTzation.

“We change exhibits here about every 40 days. At any given time it could be a solo show for an artist, a themed group show, a show for a fundraiser and over the last few years I’d done a few shows that some members of the community, for many different reasons, had a really hard time with. Maybe it was the subject matter or the theme.”

Because we live in a tourist town many store and gallery owners want their goods to reflect that. The beauty, the culture, the simple and uncomplicated aspects of Northern Michigan. So, when Shanny brought in a painting of a naked woman with hairy legs, droopy boobs and her hands bound behind her back, many potential customers that wandered in to browse were not happy.

“I did a show last year called Modern Female Archetypes. It was an all-female show and it was kind of expressing ideas throughout time that connect all of us women. Obviously, a lot of the work had to do with body image. I would sit here and people would come in and, women would sometimes take their hand and cover their significant other’s eyes, or they would laugh or just not be able to look at it.”

She prides herself on bringing in art from all over the world to be able to provide the community with pieces created by artists of all backgrounds and experiences, but she’s still a business owner and needs to make money. Gallery owners get a commission when they sell a piece of art they’re showing, which makes it hard for Shanny to show pieces with risque or controversial themes. With Project CivilARTzation, she will be able to show underrepresented art and artists and not take a commission.

“It’s always been my goal, from the start of opening this gallery, is to bring a different point of view. We have our 501c3 and through the nonprofit, I hope for the gallery to kind of be an incubator for art that is going to push the envelope a little bit more.”

Higher Art will host it’s first artist through the nonprofit this July during the same week as film festival and will feature Rufus James, a local artist and instructor at Northwestern Michigan College. 

“He’s one of the most talented, not known artists that I’ve ever seen.”

Although Shanny lives in a tourist town, she’s one for the community. Art means a lot to her because she’s an artist, in more than one way. She paints, but she also studied opera at Interlochen Arts Academy. She has combined her love of Northern Michigan with her passion for art, and now she’s giving others the opportunity to do the same.

“I’m trying to give to this community through the gallery and because of the artists we represent I feel like we’re really providing something for this community that it doesn’t have.”

Categories: GTPulse