#REACHourpotential: Bringing Color Downtown

DSC_0056 (3)

If you’ve been downtown lately, you may have noticed a new pop of color (or three!) in some of the windows. Maybe you were driving along Chisholm and thought to yourself, “was that a giant green hotdog in a hot pink bun on the old Hallmark building?”

Yes! Yes, it was!

Art in the Loft, Omega Electric and Sign Company, and the Downtown Development Authority partnered together to bring this new project to life in our downtown windows.

Justin Christensen-Cooper, the Executive Director of Art in the Loft, was originally inspired by another program in Philadelphia that he came across a few ago. The program in Philadelphia was created for underprivileged students. Students would get the chance to go into restaurants and learn all the different aspects of working in a kitchen and running a restaurant. Then they would take pictures in the restaurants, maybe of food or something the chef was doing, and turn the photos they had taken into artwork. The artwork would be blown up for a large scale art show featuring all of the kids’ work.

So what could something like that look like up here? Through a little brainstorming, the idea for the window art was born. At first they were going to use the windows in gallery, but Justin wanted the students’ art to be more visible, and something people could encounter easily in their day to day routine. Then came the idea to put them in the windows of vacant or under-construction properties downtown.

DSC_0010 (2).JPG

In late May, Justin Christensen-Cooper and Karen Bennett, an Art in the Loft board member, reached out to the DDA to propose a partnership. The DDA was happy to join the project and bring some color to downtown and attention to some of the vacant buildings and their potential. After their approval, and permission from the building owners, the project was all set to go. Justin measured all of the windows and work with Omega Electric to get the scrims for the windows printed. The project was funded by the DDA and Omega Electric and Sign Company.

The colorful pieces that you’re seeing come from two Art in the Loft programs: Ready, Set, Create! and REACH.

Ready, Set, Create! is Art in the Loft’s longest running program. It brings every fourth grader from Alpena County up to the loft for four weeks to do four different projects. The colorful heart artworks that you can see on the Werth Building and on River Street came from this program.

The colorful hotdogs and the hamburgers came from REACH. REACH stands for Recognize Everyone’s Ability and Creative Hearts. REACH is a program for students with special needs that aims to teach them life skills in a fun and approachable way. Students learn both culinary and visual arts. They learn how to make different meals and then they create artwork inspired by what they do.

Recently, Art in the Loft received a large grant through the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs (MCACA) for the high school REACH program which just finished up earlier this summer. Students would create meals in the kitchen—like hot dogs or hamburgers—and then use those meals as inspiration to create artwork in the classroom. That artwork was then compiled into a beautiful cookbook.

The REACH program is still expanding. Art in the Loft will hear back in September about a grant they applied for to bring a new program to students from Pied Piper. In this new program, there will be slightly less time in the kitchen and more time in the classroom. The new program will bring six to ten students from Pied Piper up to the loft to learn six lessons over twenty consecutive weeks for two hours a week. Each lesson will have an overarching theme that connects back to a Michigan State learning standard, so the new program will support what students are learning at their school.

For their first lesson in this program, students will be learning about the color wheel and creating a painting using all of the colors from the wheel. After that, they’ll move into the kitchen and create a color wheel pizza, using various colorful fruits and vegetables.

“One of the amazing things about all of the kids in REACH is that they have no qualms about doing anything. They’re always ready to jump in and create, and they create the most colorful pieces. They have no inhibitions, they’re just doing art,” Justin said. The new program will produce dozens of new pieces, and plenty of opportunity to expand the window project in the future.

DSC_0037 (2).JPG

Have you seen the new window art downtown yet? If you have, take a picture of, or with, your favorite one. If you post your photos on social media, tag @downtownalpena and @artintheloft and hashtag them #reachourpotential to be featured on our pages. If you haven’t, take a walk downtown this weekend, we’ll be bustling with plenty to do and see. Check out all the events happening downtown this weekend on our Facebook!


Kingsli Kraft wrote this article for Blog Downtown Alpena. Kingsli is a recent graduate from University of Michigan with a degree in Human Ecology. She enjoys reading, writing, yoga, caring for all of her plants and trying new recipes. You can follow her on Instagram here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s