Welcome to The Saugatuck Center for the Arts

Saugatuck is a beautiful vacation spot in summer time. The population swells as people come to enjoy picturesque locations, such as nationally renowned Oval Beach. Once summer comes to an end and the "weekenders" say farewell, Saugatuck becomes an intimate community of roughly 900 people. Though their size may ebb and flow, one thing does remain constant: their love of the arts and community engagement. The Saugatuck Center for the Arts has become a mainstay in the area providing both vacationers and permanent residents an opportunity to experience a variety of artistic expressions in an intimate, inviting space.

The Saugatuck Center for the Arts (SCA) is located directly across from the coastline of Lake Michigan. In 2003, the SCA renovated an abandoned pie factory and utilized much of the original architecture. Even the loading dock of the factory has become large windows that open during the summer for an indoor/outdoor atmosphere. Their most well-known outdoor feature, a red sculpture framing their rain garden area, is actually the original structure of the factory itself. Miranda Krajniak, Manager of Education and Exhibitions for the last year, has been enhancing the SCA through exhibitions, performance theater, community forums, and children's programming, putting the SCA at the center of community development in Saugatuck.

The gallery at the SCA is open year-round and boasts four different exhibitions annually. "Our exhibitions are different because of the intimate space we create," says Krajniak. For her, it's not enough to just 'put on a show’; she considers their exhibitions to be more of an educational experience. "Our exhibitions are an in-depth, multi-dimensional approach to the artwork," says Krajniak. “We try to give our audience more language to truly appreciate what they are looking at."

The latest exhibition is one rich in tradition and grassroots artistic appreciation. In its third year, Art à Loan is the brainchild of Christa Wise, a high school art teacher in Saugatuck. This particular exhibit is the result of collaboration between the SCA, the public school system, and local businesses. The art teachers within the K-12 public school system in Saugatuck collected the artwork created by kindergarteners through seniors last year and presented it to a revolving judge nominated by the SCA. This year it happened to be Krajniak. "I had the privilege of selecting which pieces would be displayed this year," says Krajniak. "It was a joy. Students came up to me asking, ‘Why did you choose mine?' They didn't understand what a great piece of art they had created."

The selected pieces are then professionally framed, matted, and hung in the gallery for display. Next to each piece is a picture of the artist and a description of the artwork. "Opening night of the exhibition is very climatic," says Krajniak. "All the families and business owners wait anxiously for the doors to open." When the gallery officially opens, business owners have the opportunity to "rent" a piece of artwork for $150.00. That piece will hang in their place of business for one year. The $150.00 goes back into the Art a loan program, making the model self-sustaining. "We sold all of our pieces in the first 15 minutes," says Krajniak. “It was a very joyful moment for families."

The Art à Loan program signifies the beginning of local programming for the SCA. During the fall and winter months, the focus becomes community-based, up close and personal. Once a freezer in the pie factory and now boasting 410 seats, the theatre at the SCA provides a common space for live theatrics, music, and movies. The likes of Joan Baez and Lindsey Buckingham have performed at the SCA in the past. In the summer months, Equity Theatre, formerly Mason Street Warehouse, brings in actors from all over the nation to live and perform in Saugatuck during the run of their production. In the off season during “Reel to Real,” documentary films that enlighten, inspire, and empower run monthly at the SCA. The next one, 5 Broken Cameras, a documentary surrounding a Palestinian farmer and his non-violent resistance of the Israeli army, plays on Nov. 8. “We always try to select something off the beaten path,” says Krajniak “Our committee considers what the community is interested in and selects a film based on that.”

An Intriguing Conversation is another community minded program happening monthly at the SCA. The idea is to provide people within Saugatuck with an opportunity to learn about local issues affecting them and rather than a lecture-based format, have a more intimate conversation with the experts on the subject. “These conversations are geared towards our core audience,” says Krajniak. “We want to make the information relatable and personalized.” The next conversation will be held on Nov. 15 at the SCA and is entitled, “Greenwashing.” “We plan to host a panel of four chefs specialized in the local production of food and educate our community on what farm to fork really means,” says Krajniak.

In addition to the core programming at the SCA, many seasonal programs are also in place bringing a sense of variety, internationalism, and compassion to West Michigan. In the summer months, Krajniak leads a program called “Growing Young Artists” that focuses on exposing migrant children to artistic expression and culture through authentic experiences. “We tried to develop projects that could live through them, something that was sustainable and a skill that could live on,” says Krajniak. The SCA also works with a Midwest regional art organization called Midwest World Fest that covers seven states. “This organization chooses one city from every state to participate. That city houses international music groups in their community for one week,” says Krajniak During that week, the musical group provides the public with performances and attends community outreach programs in schools, churches, and colleges interested in learning more about their music.

“We provide artistic expression that is expansive,” says Krajniak. “We provide a resource of experiences and have planted ourselves as the central place of art within Saugatuck.” With Executive Director, Kristin Armstrong, at the helm, the SCA is entering into a period of exciting growth. They are becoming a viable and stable nonprofit and an anchor institution in our region.

Chelsea Slocum is a resident of Grand Rapids. She works as an educator and enjoys learning about new and different things happening in the city. Follow her on twitter@cslocum.

Photographs by Adam Bird