Arts commission looks to educate, promote community involvement

By: Robert Guttersohn | Royal Oak Review | Published June 11, 2013

ROYAL OAK — As can be assumed, a large goal of the relatively new Commission for the Arts is to support established local artists.

Its Facebook page is covered with photos of Royal Oak artists’ paintings and sculptures and updates of when local bands are playing. Most notably, the CFA is in the middle of a search to fill downtown Royal Oak with local art.

But the CFA’s members say highlighting artists is only one of many goals they are hashing out. It is also looking to guide young artists and develop a sense of community around art.

The roots of the CFA date back two years ago with a very broad mission.

“The City Commission set a goal to support arts and culture as policy without any real goals to achieve that,” said Stewart Meek, the assistant city manager and member of the CFA.

Meek began to do research into other cities’ public art programs and realized that in order for one to succeed, a commission whose sole purpose is to promote art in the city would have to be born.

The commission approved its mission statement in November 2012, but the commission is just now defining what it wants for Royal Oak. It is in the midst of filling downtown with art, but it is also looking to educate young artists.

At the commission’s annual musical festival, Art Explored Live — which returns for its second year beginning July 11 — student musicians open for established performers. CFA member Jason Gittinger said the festival creates an opportunity for young musicians to rub elbows with potential musical mentors.

In Gittinger’s eyes, the CFA is creating an environment for young, budding artists to improve and hone their craft. He said the CFA should be the creator of a “Little League” for young artists.

“You will never have the very young rising to the top if there’s nothing to rise through,” said Gittinger, who is also the executive producer of the Detroit School of Rock and Pop Music.

Meek said the commission is looking to work with local educational institutions in establishing arts programs and scholarships in the future.

In addition to young artists and established artists, CFA also wants the broader community to participate in the positive aspects of art.

Meek envisions the committee taking art in Royal Oak to a higher level by creating public art spaces for the community.

Now that the commission is formed, he said when the city has large construction projects that it undertakes in the future, its planners will consider the CFA’s input.

“They are aware of us, so when something comes up, they say, ‘Oh, we can send that to the Commission for the Arts,’” Meek said.

Gittinger added that the commission isn’t just looking to spread the word about art just for the sake of beautifying the city. Art, he said, unifies.

“It allows the whole region to prosper,” Gittinger said. “If we can help artists in Royal Oak connect, I think that’s a great thing.”