For the first time, Ferris allowed Artworks to fill the ballrooms of the David L. Eisler Center with their sparkling black, white and gold dresses and decorations honoring the Roaring 20’s themed annual fundraiser gala.
Artworks has served as a home for artists in Big Rapids since the 1980s. The business is responsible for filling the downtown area of Big Rapids with art and pushing local artists to continue their passion. Artworks serves as a shop that sells the work of Michigan artists and a gallery to view art for free.
Each year, Artworks holds a gala to raise money for the business. This money helps fund their support for local Michigan artists and their classes. Some of these include pottery, glass art and art classes for the town.
Director of creative arts and community engagement Arthur Johnson sees the night of the gala as a way for the community to “recognize and celebrate” Artworks.
“It’s an opportunity for us to have an evening where we can just celebrate and recognize the work that we as Artworks do in the community,” Johnson said.
Until this year, Johnson and previous directors have hosted their gala outside in the alleyway behind their store, rain or shine. They struggle to hold the gala in a small space with unpredictable weather each year. The collaboration between Ferris and Artworks has given the gala a new location this year.
Dean of health professions Lincon Gibbs is also a board member at Artworks. Using his connections, he wanted to achieve Pink’s goal of connecting Ferris to the Big Rapids community by uniting Artworks and the university.
“President Pink spoke just months ago about the need for the [Ferris] community to build a bridge with Big Rapids,” Gibbs said. “And I thought, what better way to bring what [Artworks] is doing to Ferris?”
Johnson believes the establishment was “fortunate” to have Gibbs on the board because he found a new place for this annual event. According to President Bill Pink, Ferris plans on hosting Artwork’s annual gala for “as long as the tall bald guy is president of Ferris.”
Aside from his work at Ferris and Artworks, Gibbs spends his time as a cake artist creating “extravagant and gravity defying cakes.” Gibbs used to host a baking camp for kids in Big Rapids. He defines himself as a “creator by nature.”
“Cake art is my main specialty, so I bring that creativity to Big Rapids and share with the community what I do,” Gibbs said. “Here I am as a dean, and also as an artist. Well, what’s a great way I could use both of my positions to help the community? I’m doing it through my connection with Ferris and also through my passion and love for the arts.”
Each year, a student artist is featured with their own section of the galley at Artworks. Artworks has also encouraged education coordinator Ruth Vermeer to transition from “crafter” to “artist.”
“When I first came [to Artworks], I was just an artist that made greeting cards,” Vermeer said. “But then I took on the role of education coordinator. Now, I get to teach, which is really my passion.”
After setting up an art table in the parking lot behind City Hall, the old director of Artworks provided the opportunity for Vermeer’s art to be sold in their shop along with many other local Michigan artists. After becoming the education coordinator, she was able to inspire many young creators to embrace their talents the way Artworks inspired her.
“We care that art is accessible to anybody and we encourage people,” Vermeer said. “I find this all the time with kids. Already, they say ‘I can’t do that, I’m not as good as someone else.’ Where did that come from? Because I’ve witnessed that little kids can be really creative.”
In the experience of Vermeer, kids at a young age are comparing themselves and “they just quit.” She hopes that Artworks can change that for the community just as it did for her.
“Oftentimes, I start a class and say ‘who thinks they can’t do art?’ We usually have 12 kids in a session, and five to seven kids will raise their hand and say they can’t do art,” Vermeer said. “I say ‘take that thought and throw it out the window.’”
All money spent on tickets, drinks and auctioned items at the gala were donated to local artists recognized by Artworks. With financial support from the gala, Artworks hopes to continue their events such as their Hispanic Heritage Month celebration from Sept. 15 to Nov. 4.