Quick - it's 5:30 p.m. on the first Friday of the month - what are your plans for the night?
Maybe you're going to have a casual dinner with friends, or catch up on a few errands, or settle in with a good book - but if you are within the Kalamazoo region, there's a strong change you'll be lured out to make an appearance at Art Hop, the monthly showcase where local galleries and business open welcome in the community for a few snacks, great conversation, and, of course, to buy some art.
“We actually regularly have people come from Grand Rapids, Hastings, Allegan, South Haven, Northern Indiana, Ann Arbor, every time there’s an Art Hop, because it is a thing,” says Beth McCann, the Deputy Director for Programs & External Communications of the Arts Council.
She says their support has been seen most significantly in the four super-sized Art Hops the Council hosts during the year, appropriately titled "Art Hops & More." The last one, held in December, hosted 78 sites, the largest Art Hop event ever.
Any business can have their name listed in the brochure, more artists can participate and live music and demonstrations are held.
“We partner really closely with the downtown community so Art Hop really is a benefit to the downtown businesses – we hear it directly from them, and we want that to be," McCann says. We want it to be something that integrates into the community and is just part of the fabric – it’s part of what we do.”
The Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo sponsors the event, which has been a regular occurrence for over 17 years.
It allows the public the opportunity to find their next great piece to hang on their wall or place on the mantel, have a conversation with the person who made it, and to get out and have a little fun.
Organizations pay a $50 monthly fee to have their name and featured project listed in the brochure, but that's not limited to restaurants, boutiques, and even the bank, so long as there are works to see and people to discuss them with.
But last month, Art Hop was dealt a surprising blow: their 15-year partner, Downtown Kalamazoo Incorporated was forced to cut their financial support down from $50,000 to $10,000 for the year.
The cut has left businesses and patrons wondering how strong the resulting changes will be felt - and if Art Hop, which is estimated to bring in about 70,000 patrons a year, will still have a leg to stand on.
Some, like Tromblay Salon owner and longtime Art Hop partner Albert Tromblay see this issue as going above and beyond what Art Hop is really about - the art.
"I think it's always good to look at a budget and see what you can do with what you have to work with I guess. I don't see it as being a big change for Art Hop because people are going to show up and as long as there's art to look at and art to appreciate...it doesn't cost much money to hang art on a wall," he says.
Tromblay might have a point, but Art Hop is definitely an opportunity to cast your social net. Just ask artist Mary Heynig, proprietor of the quirky gallery and co-op space known as Lotsa Little Things.
The two-room establishment is filled with locally-sourced jewelry, license plates forged into purses, and canvases filled with everything from lifelike images of The Beatles to oversized rings of Froot Loops. The couches in the middle and the dollar-per-cup coffee bar encourage you to stay awhile and make conversation.
"Retro Furniture is our next door neighbor and K'zoo Swift - and we all have an Art Hop party going on, so we're a major stop. We're generally very busy for Art Hop," says Heynig.
Lotsa Little Things relocated to their current spot from Downtown over a year ago. She says that Art Hop proves to be one of their best nights of the month - though not everyone who comes in the door walks out with their hands full. She's a little in the dark on what will happen, but plans to continue pledging her support.
"One thing I've noticed on Art Hop is that a lot of people don't plan to by art that night - but they come back later, a week or so, and buy the thing that they were looking at. I think it's beneficial for us to be in Art Hop ‘cause we're a full time gallery, and they know that piece will be there again the next time they come back, or on payday or when they have the big van that they can move the big painting in. It's a great community building event ,so no matter what the new face of Art Hop looks like, Lotsa Little Things will be involved."
McCann says the Arts Council has been aggressively pursuing additional avenues of income and has gotten a lot of support from other area organizations in the cause. But publicly, the goal is for any changes to go unnoticed, she says.
"It will never go away - it's actually given us an opportunity to say 'Okay, we've had the four big ones, we've had the eight 'smaller ones,' now what we want to do is to bring them all up and say 'How can we make twelve great events?' The numbers may change...but the general principle behind Art Hop will not change."
The next Art Hop will be held on March 7.