GTPulse: Michigan Artists Display Artwork Virtually at Crooked Tree Arts Center

For me, most days are spent looking at a screen. My phone, laptop and TV have seemingly become the only threads of connection I have to the outside world. We’ve all had to adapt our daily lives and practices amidst the pandemic and a lot of what we would be experiencing in person, we are now experiencing virtually. Crooked Tree Arts Center in Traverse City would be hosting an annual juried photo exhibition right now, but instead are working around COVID-19 to still provide photographers with a space to sell their work and guests to admire and take home if they wish. This is the first time annual their Juried Photography Exhibition is all online

“We transitioned the show online right as we were about to install the show, so artwork was arriving to us just as restrictions were being placed in Michigan,” Galleries Director Liz Erlewine said.

The exhibition showcases local photographers, and just because it’s juried doesn’t mean that there’s a prompt or theme to follow.

“Ours aren’t often called to have a theme. It’s up to the jurors. So we do Michigan Now, which is a juried fine arts exhibition without a theme. That’s just to recognize excellent work from throughout the state of Michigan. The reason we have no theme is, often an artist will have their own body of work that speaks to the things that are important to them. We don’t necessarily know what that is.”

Photo by: Daniel Welihan, “Sam and Morris”

There may not be a theme among the submissions, but there is a common thread. All of the contributing photographers are Michiganders. Several submitted photos depict different facets of the state. Meggen Watt’s Icebergs in Leland Harbor shows a chunky teal ice mound submerged in the brilliant blue-green water that Leland is known for. Another photo displaying cherry blossoms peeking through a stickered chain link fence by Jeremy Whiting in Royal Oak reminds me of home. But the photo that I keep thinking about is one by Douglas Coon. The photo, called Calumet Windows shows a building with four windows, each framing something different. One window has a box fan in it, another has an American flag hung up. The top left window shows a little boy looking out onto the street, and the one next to him shows nothing but half-drawn blinds. It feels so indicative of what right now feels like.

Photo by: Douglas Coon, “Calumet Windows”

“That’s something I’ve really enjoyed about looking at artwork right now because I realize that I’m looking at images very differently. This was rural Michigan. This is in Calumet, Michigan. And so what he was doing was he was responding very much to the formal elements like the design elements of looking at that building. It almost looks like a cake topper with the lines at the top. He happened to just be there and capture that image. This image he tells us is from 2019, so we know that it was taken before we were all boxed up inside. But it’s almost impossible to read that image now without reflecting on what’s going on in our world.”

The exhibition is online and all proceeds from any of the purchased artwork go directly back to the photographer.

“There are prices in the description for each of the pieces. They’re also being shared through our social media, so every day we’re highlighting a specific piece so we can appreciate them one at a time, and for this particular exhibition, all of the sales are going directly to the artist so we can help support those artists. 

Crooked Tree has also adjusted by offering CTAC Online, a variety of free art courses that teach art disciplines like ballet, music, and visual arts.

Photo by: Robert Harold, “Quiet Storm”

“All small businesses have been struggling through these challenging times. Like everyone, we’re adapting and working through this and one thing that I think is nice about arts experiences and arts education is it teaches us all how to persevere. We’re faced with challenges, we come up with solutions if it doesn’t work we keep going. We do it again. We’re looking at some of these shifts staying with us for a while. That can feel frustrating but it’s also really exciting. We’ve transitioned our online programs like the Virtual Coffee at 10. During this time of year, we might have a dozen people visit us in the gallery at a time but virtually we could have five times as many people show up and participate in our programs.”

Spending some virtual time with Crooked Tree Arts Center is inspiring, relaxing and educational. And for me, a welcome way to divide screen time. Check out the photo exhibit here.

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Categories: GTPulse