Spurned by the DIA, Saline creates its own showcase.
by Sheila Beachum Bilby
From the October, 2018 issue
The bold colors of the painted sunflowers grab attention, encouraging passersby to linger a moment in a Saline parking lot to admire a reproduction of a watercolor by local artist Joann Porter.
It's one of nine reproductions of works by local artists installed around downtown last year. New ones will go up starting in September.
Porter's painting, "Midas Touch," features a bouquet of finely detailed sunflowers wreathed by golden wheat. When it was selected for the city-initiated Art Around Saline project last summer, she recalls, "I was thrilled."
Art Around Saline was inspired by the Detroit Institute of Art's Inside/Out exhibition. Inside/Out showcases high quality reproductions of DIA masterpieces at outdoor locations in select Michigan cities. Saline twice sought to be a host site for the DIA art but was never chosen.
Undaunted, the city's Arts and Culture Committee started mulling the possibility of doing a homegrown version featuring local artists. "Once the idea came up in the committee, everybody jumped on it," says chair Kathleen Krone. "It was, 'Of course we can do this.'"
The Arts and Culture Committee sent out notices to arts organizations in Washtenaw County announcing the project, and by August 2018 more than 100 pieces of artwork have been submitted for consideration by a jury composed of members from the committee and the business promotional nonprofit Saline Main Street.
The jury initially selected four pieces, and in May 2017, the weatherproofed and framed reproductions were installed on the exteriors of businesses along Ann Arbor St. and Michigan Ave. It went over big in the community.
"I haven't heard a single discouraging word about this," says Linda TerHaar, a city councilwoman who sits on the Arts and Culture Committee. "It's all been really positive."
Buoyed by the response, the committee again worked with Saline Main Street and the Saline Chamber of Commerce, with grant support from the Washtenaw County Convention and Visitors Bureau, to put up another five artworks last fall.
Those partners worked together again this year, with
additional support from the Saline Rotary Club, on a third round of art selections, which will replace pieces that have been up for a year or more. Going forward, the committee hopes to put up new art every September.
Local artist Nancy Murray's watercolor "Great Egret" has soared on the S. Ann Arbor St. side of the brick building that houses the Brecon Grille & Pub for the past year.
"It's probably more exposure than you'd ever get from any show or gallery," says Murray, president of the Saline Painters Guild, which has six members whose work has been chosen for display. "It says a lot about the community supporting the arts. It's great."
If local artists are enthused, so too are the downtown businesses who have fielded inquiries from patrons who ask about the artwork.
"I think it kind of surprises people to see art outside and not just blank brick walls, so they come in," said Helen Martin, an interior designer who works at Pineapple House. Sandra Difazio's "Sutherland-Wilson Farm" is displayed on the N. Ann Arbor St. side of its building. "It's just another way to strike up a conversation with customers."
Each of the artists receives a $200 honorarium. The reproductions belong to the city, and the arts committee is looking at ways to show the art elsewhere once it rotates out of the downtown spaces.
"We've asked the artists' permission to expand that time [on exhibit] indefinitely for us to be able to exhibit their art around Saline," says Krone, "and all of them have agreed to that."
Porter, a retired art teacher, didn't hesitate to say yes. But she no longer owns the original. A couple of months after "Midas Touch" went on display last year, she received a call from a family whose mother had admired the painting when they dined downtown one night last fall. They bought the original.
"It was a surprise for their mother for Christmas," Porter says.
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