Committee on arts and culture proposed for Madison Heights

By: Andy Kozlowski, | Madison - Park News | Published July 12, 2017

MADISON HEIGHTS — The city of Madison Heights has citizen-led boards that specialize in researching different topics, such as the Multicultural Relations Advisory Board and the Information Technology Advisory Committee. But currently, there is no board dedicated to promoting arts and culture in the city.

“Arts and culture play a huge role in the pulse of a city,” Mayor Pro Tem Mark Bliss said, in an email. “They’re hugely popular, and they bring people together. They also have an economic impact and boost local businesses — and right now, other cities are enjoying that boost. It’s also worth noting that communities with thriving arts and cultural programming are seeing larger increases in property values and a higher demand for folks wanting to live in those cities.”

At the June 28 City Council meeting, Bliss proposed a group that would focus on this need. Tentatively titled the Arts and Culture Advisory Commission, Bliss said he’d like to see at least five members of the public serve on it, all with backgrounds in the arts — artists, actors, writers, singers, musicians and so on — as well as representatives from council and city staff.

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In addition, he’d like to mirror how the Parks and Recreation Committee is comprised of student delegates, and have a student from each high school serve on the board.

“Many of the students who served in our council internship program the last couple years showed a great passion for expanding arts and cultural programming in our city,” Bliss said. “This board would give us the opportunity to brainstorm ideas with these creative teens, as well as give them a chance to impact their community while gaining valuable experience in how city government works. It’s a win-win.”

There are multiple board structures the city could use, Bliss said, so he requested that staff research the issue and make a recommendation on what works best, compiling language for a resolution that the council would need to consider and approve during a regular meeting. With ITAC — also conceived by Bliss — staff authored three different resolutions to review and discuss.

“The overarching reasons for the board and their defined focus was the same in all three, but they differed when it came to the makeup of the board … as well as how often the board will meet,” Bliss explained. “I’m expecting a similar process here, where council will have multiple options to debate so that we make sure we pick the best option for the city.”

As for what such a group may work on, Bliss said he’d like to see the committee kickstart some festivals, art exhibits, classes, concerts, live theater and more.

“It doesn’t have to be big changes, and frankly, it won’t be right out of the gate,” Bliss said. “But small things like allowing artists to display their art for sale in city buildings would still make a big impact on the aesthetics of the library and City Hall. Additionally, smaller block party-style concerts, shows and art exhibitions in our parks would likely be hugely popular in our city, but wouldn’t take the complex planning and resources to put together something like the Pre-Fourth of July Festival does.”

Bliss said he’s confident the committee will do great things in the city because he’s seen it before with other resident-led boards. The Senior Citizen Advisory Commission boosted senior programming while ITAC completely changed the city’s technology landscape, for example.

“It’s a different focus, but I see an enormous amount of similarities between proposing this board and proposing ITAC back in 2014,” Bliss said. “ITAC was new and required a different way of thinking, but it was ultimately successful due to the discussions and ideas that came from amazing citizens who lent their expertise to the committee. It’s the same with this arts committee. We’ll have to change our thinking, but the residents serving on it will no doubt leverage their experience to come up with great ideas that’ll boost our community.”

Those interested in serving on an arts committee are asked to contact Bliss at markbliss@madison-heights.org or by calling (248) 274-4673. Feedback on the idea is also welcome.

Bliss said similar committees have been implemented to great effect in neighboring communities such as Royal Oak, Farmington Hills and Saline.

“The arts mean a lot to me,” Bliss said. “My wife and I met in a theater class, and many others in our city share that same passion and love for the arts. I’d like to invite those residents to join us and help us create the kind of programming that will reinvigorate our city and inspire the next generation of artists. Let’s not forget that one of the most renowned artists in the world right now, (Robert) Wyland, grew up here and found inspiration in this city.”

City Councilman David Soltis said he supports the idea.

“When Mark proposed it, I thought it was a fantastic idea, and it’s well past time that we have something like this,” Soltis said. “I’m all for it, and I’ll do all I can to support it, and I’m sure the rest of council and city management feels the same. I think it’ll be a great collaboration for a great cause. I’m a big fan of the arts, I appreciate the arts, and I think it would be fantastic to have these art fairs coming into the city more and more, bringing business here, and some culture. It helps the businesses and the up-and-coming artists that sell their work.”

Mayor Brian Hartwell said he applauds Bliss. He said that when he and Bliss hosted a series of town hall picnics last summer dedicated to place-making, residents told them that they want more public events — for example, a Madison Heights art fair, or an Asian night market to capitalize on the roughly 200 Asian-owned businesses in the city, or a food truck rally near 11 Mile and John R roads.

“For Madison Heights to be an attractive 21st century community, arts and culture are vital,” Hartwell said via email. “Culture defines our existence much more colorfully than budgets and business meetings. Art allows us to express our hopes and fears; it can distract us, and other times keep us focused. The arts will also spur economic development and bring investment. A thriving arts scene will attract new businesses, entertain us and give another reason to move here. As much as the arts are uninhibited, community development must be intentional and persistent.

“Arts and culture will not distract us from performing at high levels in public safety and other services,” he said. “Rather, embracing arts and culture will open our minds and doors to endless possibility.”