A Christmas view of one of the downtown businesses
I live in a medium-sized town in Southwest Michigan, halfway between Chicago and Detroit. We’re a college town through and through – with one university, two colleges and a community college located here. This has helped to create a strong arts community.
Like other communities, our downtown has been in decline for several years, with many stores moving out to the malls and away from the area, leaving a lot of empty storefronts. About 4 years ago, our arts council began sponsoring a monthly art hop, where the local businesses stay open the first Friday evening of each month offering art, music, wine and cheese. Every third month, there is an expanded art hop, which the whole downtown becomes involved, sort of like a big block party.
I can’t say that it has fully revitalized the downtown area, however, it has created an opportunity for those who have not been downtown to see it’s charms. There are a number of unique boutique-like shops (locally owned) and wonderful eateries that get exposure during these events. One old factory building at the edge of the central city has practically become an artist’s colony filled with artist studios and arts organizations.
I work downtown at the library, and have attended several of the art hops. The December Art Hop is especially festive with the snow falling, Christmas lights everywhere, and a decorated trolley giving folks rides all over the downtown area. The streets, stores and restaurants are filled with folk in a holiday mood. It reminds me of when I was a kid going downtown to shop for Christmas.
Unfortunately, the weather can play a role in the patron turnout. Last summer we had a severe rainstorm that put a damper on the June Art Hop; Friday evening’s Holiday Hop was bitterly cold with a wind chill in the teens. The crowds were small. Still, I really love the spirit which the event was created and not only does this keep the downtown area a vital part of the community, it spotlights local artists and gets their names out to those who may not have the opportunity to see their work.
A blurry view of the park
Here is a better one. Candy Cane Lane. One of my favorite Christimastime memories as a child. Ice sculptures at the Art Hop.
Another ice sculpture being created.
Art patrons visiting the stores and viewing art.
A busy shop.