Businesses feature student work with March Downtown for Art

Nolan Krebs

Patrons of Marquette’s downtown district may have noticed a little more color throughout shops and other businesses this month.

Since Friday, March 1, businesses have been featuring the work of NMU art and design students in the month-long exhibition, March Downtown for Art. From restaurants and museums to garden shops and offices, 17 businesses are currently paired with students and their artwork, said student art gallery director and senior painting major Steve Smolinski.

“With the rapid organization of the event, businesses had a short window to decide to participate,” Smolinski said. “But we had 22 businesses register to participate[…]those are pretty good number for the inaugural run of any event this size.”

March Downtown for Art started coming together last summer, when Smolinski met with Kim Danielson of Babycakes and DeVos museum director Melissa Matuscak to discuss the possibilities of engaging art and design students with the local business community.

“After bouncing around some ideas, we decided on incorporating the Eastside Independent Restaurant Association, but over the fall semester, plans wavered and it almost fell apart,” Smolinski said. “That’s where Emily Lancot stepped in and revitalized the project.”

Smolinski said working with Lancot, who also works with the Marquette Downtown Development Authority, gave them an avenue for connecting with the local businesses. At the end of last semester, Smolinski said he and Lancot were able to finalize some plans and coordinate with businesses downtown.

Integrating student artwork into the shops downtown is just one way of further cultivating the community-university relationship, Smolinski said, and it also gives students some experience looking at the business side of things.

“Art and design majors are some of the most entrepreneurial people out there — we tend to approach things from a different angle, which many businesses benefit from,” Smolinski said. “In return, [students] get the real world, professional experience of finding and venue and working through the process of getting themselves and their work into public view.”

Senior painting major Kate Hertler was one student who did just that: emailed an image of her work and it’s dimensions to the owners at Flower Works and said she received a response almost right away.

“My exhibit consists of just one painting — an abstract rendition of a pomegranate,” Hertler said. “The painting stretches across a five-inch by four-inch canvas in oil paint. [It] is meant to entice the viewers attention by alluring their desire to touch, taste and smell.”

Hertler said she hopes to see more events like March Downtown for Art in the future.

“I think this was a great opportunity for students to gain recognition for their artwork,” Hertler said. “Aside from that, community enrichment through the arts is always a plus.”

Junior art education major Nina Fiorucci, who has original photography on display at Panara Imports, agreed that March Downtown For Art was a good step towards engaging students in the art and design program with the community.

“[March Downtown for Art] was the perfect connection for students and community members because there is no active avenue for student work outside campus,” Fiorucci said. “The Student Art Gallery and DeVos have a limited outreach compared to a gallery downtown.”

Fiorucci said the program also encourages students to move outside of their comfort zone.

“I would never have the guts to approach businesses and attempt to consign my work,” Fiorucci said. “However, I feel like I have a relationship with these businesses now and would feel very comfortable approaching them again on my own.”

Smolinski also has work featured at Marquette Wallpaper and Paint. Smolinski said the techniques used in his work, such as collage and pasting of paper, mimic some of the commercial processes of home painting, which made pairing with the business a “no-brainer.”

“The first iteration of the event has been a success,” Smolinski said. “Which means that there will be a next time — and that means bigger and better.”

For more information about March Downtown for Art, or for a full list of participating businesses, visit www.downtownmarquette.org.