Little Artshram inspires and educates people of all ages to live creatively in harmony with nature, through a unique combination of permaculture principles, visual, musical and puppet artistry, service to the natural world, and inclusive social activism. Little Artshram is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
Happy 20 + Birthday Little Artshram aka ARTSPACE!
For over 20 years Little Artshram aka as ARTSPACE, has provided art, environmental and most recently permaculture educational programming for people of ALL ages, with an emphasis on children and youth. Our longtime, “many hands will make a village work” attitude has contributed, inspiration and encouragement for local and regional for-profit and non-profit businesses blooming into existence– expanding and decentralizing like heart-minded, sister and brother programs in Lansing, the Grand Traverse area, and other parts of Michigan.
We are celebrating the beginning of our 20 + years as one of Michigan’s seed-planting, inspiring and catalyzing, creative organizations! Our humble beginnings began in Lansing, above an auto parts store where a studio and workplace for three artists became a summer arts camp and the park along the Grand River, from the Fish Ladder to the Turner-Dodge House, became our outdoor classroom. We held our first summer camps in this North Lansing neighborhood in 1991, making friends and being welcomed by longtime residents, artists, musicians, by bringing children, youth and families back into the oldest part and original village of Lansing.
Our tiny organization was named North Town Art Center, and our mission and vision was to simply provide space and place for creativity to be nurtured, focusing on children, youth and families. Our ideas and work resonated with many of our neighbors, and when others tagged us as “typical kooky artist types” we knew we were setting up shop in the right place. With quite a bit of joy and enthusiasm, in the midst of much urban decay and brokenness, we worked our magic and inspiration, becoming a necessary part of the re-design and re-purposing vision that was soon to bloom in the whole neighborhood area.
We did our catalyzing bit by attracting even more kooky-artist and cultural creative types, as well as a board of directors and directresses that believed in our good works and that this was the right place to be. We welcomed neighborhood children and families, involving and developing programming and community projects for our nearby friends and families who lived at Hildebrandt Housing Development.
In 1993 our name changed to the Greater Lansing ARTSPACE and we became an official 501.c3 non-profit organization under that name. Each day we explored along the foot-path of what would become a north extension of Lansing’s Rivertrail, one of the longest urban river trail’s in the country.
That same year, our dear friend, neighbor, and trusted advisor, Robert Busby offered to give us a store-front and first-floor space at 1209 Turner St. The switch from our Grand River location to just around the corner to Turner St. was remarkable, in that we were now surrounded by our artist friends, ARTSPACE went from mainly offering summer camp programming to providing year-round workshops and outreach to all of the Lansing Housing Development’s through their community centers in two years time.
ARTSPACE expanded our teaching staff and hired MSU Art and Education interns, musicians, local visual artists and muralists. Among them were Clarence Song, Morgan Blackledge, Marty Koenig, Kathy Semrau, Nancy Frank, Petra Daher, Wendy Bernard, Angela Dedenbach, Stephanie Rorich, and Leslie. In one and a half years time, we created three amazing mural projects in three different, Lansing neighborhoods with community outreach and after-school programming for the children and youth in the t Housing Development neighborhoods. In the small photographs of the mural pictured below, a group of Lansing area children and teens along with artist Clarence Song, designed and executed this community project in our back lot. The large photos are wonderful portraits of just a few of the neighborhood kids that Clarence, Morgan and Marty worked with in two South Lansing neighborhoods.
ARTSPACE became an after-school center and place where children were dropped off from Gier Park Elementary and Otto Middle School expanding into puppet and mask theater, developing our first apprentice and OUTLOUD! Girls programs. It was also at this time, that the ARTSPACE staff, Petra Daher, Nancy Frank and myself, traveled to Minneapolis and we met George Meyer, Beth Peterson, Roy McBride, Sandy Spieler and the whole crew at Heart of the Beast Theater (HOBT) beginning a longtime puppet and mask theater mentoring relationship. It was one of the most memorable November’s of my life, and has been a blessed annual spring working trip and pilgrimage to Minnesota ever since.
We remained in Lansing at the Turner Street location, focusing on puppet and mask theater, thanks to HOBT’s inspirations, expanding into an organization that could and wanted to serve children and families living in nearby Hildebrandt Housing Development, as well as, across town at two other housing developments.
One of our final puppet and mask events was the winter production of “A Dickens’ Christmas Carol”, directed by John Hay. It was a wonderful, many week project and production with a cast of more than twenty children and youth, and the help of many parents and friends assisting w. puppet-making, costume design and providing snacks and freshly popped corn at our make-shift puppet theater! We were proud to have the kids agree to hold the show over for a special second performance after the holidays.
Once our up and coming “new-Old Town” neighborhood caught on, not so slowly entrepreneurs moved in and developers began valuing this historic district as a renewed place of interest and business. With a bittersweet understanding for the need to let go and move on, we knew we could not afford the rent increases, and closed our doors in 1998.
For a two and a half year time of transition to North West Michigan from 1998 to 2000, ARTSPACE remained quietly acclimating and adjusting to a new direction in Lake City, at the home of the now well-loved and popular Earthwork Harvest Gathering at Earthworks Farms. This was a great landing spot of rejuvenation with much thanks to the loving support and friendship of the Bernard family. While living and working here, along with sinking back into my childhood roots of rural farm-life and growing food, I was invited to help develop puppet and mask theater in Cadillac with a community-wide New Year’s celebration.
Our next move happened in the Spring of 2000, after being asked to host a puppet and mask workshop for the Earth Day Parade and All Species event that the Neahtawanta Center and Shielding Tree Nature Center were coordinating in the Leelanau County and Traverse City area. It was during this time, settling in Leelanau County, that the commitment to retrofit and re-purpose ARTSPACE with a new name happened. The inspiration came from consciously deciding to carry on with this work, and for me that was a very big personal decision.
Leaving Lansing and the community we had been working with, and I considered my family, was a very heart-wrenching experience, even with all of the new possibilities. But, after many long walks in the woods and along the shores of our BIG Lake Michigan, I felt sure that we had more to give and to receive through our work and as an organization. I spent a lot of time in the back fields of this old farm, and in particular sitting in one meditation spot, reflecting and digesting all of the good works of ARTSPACE in Lansing, and wondering if and how we might proceed in NW Michigan.
Taking time to breathe and enjoy the beautiful new place I’d landed with my family, provided me with ample space to consider the if and how questions. I’d recently been greatly inspired by the work of Bo and Sita Lozoff in the Prison Ashram Project in North Carolina. And so sitting quietly in a favorite spot at this old farm I came up with the name Little Artshram. There have been plenty of people who have asked me what Little Artshram means—so like telling the story of my children’s birth days, I do the same: “Little”—as in small space–rather than big/greater/outer-space and “Artshram”—as in an Ashram—or art-shram—where we come into the quiet, contemplative, heart-mind space of the natural world, and the creative force and consciousness of the inner and outer worlds might be encouraged, seriously considered, celebrated and reckoned with.
Our new surroundings, with a growing group of families, supporters and board members emerged, continuing the Summer Camps—our Lansing city-life being replaced with Leelanau country-life, and, expansion into nature-based and garden-farming taking place at the old Maple Sugar Shack of the old Baatz Family farmstead.
This was also a special time when the OUTLOUD! Girls group was in full swing, and my “four-midible” mentors and teachers, Mary White, Carol Laughing Waters, Sally Neal and Jayne Leatherman Walker, appeared in my life and doings.
In our first year, along with tomatoes, green beans and cucumbers, we grew a new and interesting crop of Black Kabouli Garbanzo Beans. We also began the practice of amending the soil, by planting a cover crop of buckwheat in our plot. Thus began our garden-farming and permaculture interest with the gardens becoming outdoor classrooms and creative-making places to be.
Once the Baatz farm was sold in 2003—at a price much higher than Little Artshram could afford, we made a brilliant and resilient move into Traverse City, occupying one blessed, garden plot as our summer-time gathering and garden-farm teaching space. The community garden at the old State Hospital Farm was a very quiet and unused space at that time. The nearby hundred-acre (plus some) began serving as our wild-garden teaching place, and the expansion of a permaculture and nature awareness curriculum began in full-swing.
We contributed much love, sweat and care-taking to the Traverse City Community Garden property and held classes and workshops for dozens and dozens of children, youth and their families, as well as, offering many events for the public. Several years after we began our care-taking and programming on the Community Garden and Old State Hospital Barns property, we were joined by SEEDS and the Botanic Garden as neighbors and co-managers of the old farm property. Development began slowly at first and then with great interest and support to turn this property into a sustainable working farm. Little Artshram hosted a first-ever Permaculture Design Course in late 2010/11, with 30 students creating seven design projects for our 4.5 acre parcel.
The Little Artshram Summer Camps and our community-neighborhood gardening program moved from the community garden site in 2012, with the generous support and collaboration of Higher Grounds Trading Company to the northern portion of the hundreds of acres of Munson Woods.
Maintaining and reinvigorating our roots in hosting community gatherings, Little Artshram continued the tradition of a spring celebration by hosting and organizing the Grand Traverse Earth Day Parade and celebration for over 12 years. Since 2013 we’ve stepped back to welcome in and collaborate with NMC Student Life Organization and their Dirt Fest/Sweet Earth Festival, Oryana Natural Foods, encouraging a shared commitment of recognizing and featuring community-wide events that focus on celebrating our planet home.
We are thankful for both the organizational and management support of O’k CSA and the LLOOF project., with several new neighborhood-community gardens being developed in Traverse City neighborhoods. Land and yard-share owners in the Central, Slab Town and Bohemia neighborhoods, have provided new teaching/learning ground for another season of creative, ecological education and activity in our home-place.
In 2016 we continue to offer environmental and art/design programming for people of ALL ages, with a continued interest in creating family-friendly, children and youth centered programming, while supporting the expanding network of permaculture education for people of all ages. We begin this year with a collaboration with a collective of permaculture educators and Northern Michigan regional focus on providing professional, credited permaculture courses, workshops and design services, through the Great Rivers and Lakes Permaculture Institute and Permaculture Institute of North America.
And, very soon with the publishing of this story/update, Little Artshram will co-host a special fundraising event w. Seth Bernard and friends, on Saturday February 13th, 2016, to support bringing Toby Hemenway author of Gaia’s Garden and The Permaculture City, and Dan Kitteridge of the Bionutrient Food Association to the 2016 Traverse City Permaculture Design Course.
On behalf of ALL of the folks who have stood by our side and helped to support the ARTSPACE and Little Artshram vision and mission, I’m personally so thankful and grateful to you all. Sincere thanks to EVERYONE who contributes to and has been a part of our woven web and looking forward to many more wonderful, celebratory years, appreciating the dynamic experiences and developments of shared work and play as creative, earth-loving creatures!
Thanks for reading this story.
Gracias, and adios for now,
Founder and Directress, ARTSPACE & Little Artshram