Be Part of the Benton Harbor Arts District

Benton Harbor is home to a thriving art and culture scene – including events like Artoberfest, an Oktoberfest-style celebration of art, culture, music, and food that’s coming up on September 21. Read about Artoberfest and more in the guest post below from Joshua Nowicki.

Shortly after moving to Southwestern Michigan two years ago, I fell in love with the Benton Harbor Arts District.

My first introduction to the Arts District was during one of the Art Hops organized by the New Territory Arts Association (NTAA).  I was amazed at the number of people downtown and by the variety of local businesses, restaurants, and galleries that invited artists to show their work.  The Art Hops, which are free and family-friendly events, are open to everyone; many of the participating organizations provide light refreshments for guests.  The upcoming Art Hop dates are October 18th and December 20th, 2013.

"Icarus" by David Kolka located in Thayer Park (part of the Krasl Art Center Biennial Sculpture Invitational)

One of my favorite places in the Arts District is Water Street GlassWorks, a non-profit, studio, gallery and school which is dedicated to the glass and metal arts.  Visitors are invited to overlook the school’s ‘hot shop’ and watch students’ and artists’ glassblowing and casting.  The perfect complement to the warmth of the GlassWorks is ice-cold gelato from Water Street GellatoWorks.  The GellatoWorks which serves Palazzolo’s gelato and Uncommon Grounds coffee, is an arm of the GlassWorks and provides funding for the organizations’ FiredUp! program and job skills training for the participating students.

While in the Arts District, you will probably notice a number of orange metal sculptures located on various rooftops and walkways. These sculptures were created by Michigan based artist, John Suave, and are part of the ‘I Am The Greatest Project,’ a program of Anna Russo Sieber Gallery.  The gallery features exhibits of both local and national arts, along with art, language and cultural classes, and outreach programs.

The artist studios at 210 Water Street offer a great opportunity to meet local artists working in their studios. 3 Pillars Gallery, an intermittent urban gallery, offers various creative events. The Arts District is also the location of Richard Hunt Studio Center which is one of the galleries/studios of internationally acclaimed sculptor, Richard Hunt.  Moreover, it is home to The Citadel Dance & Music Center along with The Oak Room at the Citadel; both are performing arts organizations.  Further, the Arts District has recently expanded with the addition of the Wall Street Studios just across Main Street.

There are a variety of unique dining options in the Arts District including The Phoenix, Larks Bar-B-Que, Charlie’s Piggin’ N’ Grinnin’, The Library Pub & Eatery, and The Ideal Place.  Also nearby are Cafe Mosaic and Bread + Bar by Bit of Swiss.  If you love Michigan beer, The Livery offers a tasty selection of ‘hand-forged microbrews’.  The Livery is also the place to go for concerts and entertainment including Open Stage sponsored by the NTAA which features regional musicians, poets, and storytellers on the first Monday of every month.

Interior of a loft in the Benton Harbor Arts District

Earlier this year, the NTAA hosted a Loft Hop which gave participants an exclusive look at the unique living spaces in downtown Benton Harbor. The level of comfort and luxury that the historic downtown buildings provide to their residents is amazing.  In fact, downtown living is so poplar that there is a wait list for available spaces.

If you are in Southwest Michigan on September 21, you will not want to miss Artoberfest, an Oktoberfest-style celebration of art, culture, music, and food. This year, it features two headliner bands: The True Falsettos and Deacon Blues.  Artoberfest will feature Michigan microbrews from Arcadia, Bells, Greenbush, The Livery, Shorts, and Tapistry.

Be sure to visit the Arts District as part of your next trip to Southwestern Michigan.

To learn more about the Benton Harbor Arts District, Art Hops & Artoberfest, visit

Joshua Nowicki is a St. Joseph, Michigan based photographer and a member of the New Territory Arts Association board of directors.  

Meet the Artists

On a recent trip to St. Joseph, Kristin Bienert, editor of Michigan Travel Ideas, spent time touring the Box Factory for the Arts, a venue for local artists.

Built in 1907, this one-time box factory made fancy boxes until 1989 for companies like Marshall Fields. Now restored, the first floor and lower level house artists’ studios and galleries, plus a small gift shop. Owned by the Berrien Arts Guild, the venue sponsors writers’ workshops, music and theater performances, and other special events.

After wandering through the front and back galleries and gift shop on the first floor, plan to devote your time meeting the artists. Almost three-dozen artists rent space by the month. On any given day, visitors can find a handful of artists working in their studios. Note: All keep their hours posted outside their studio doors.

Artist Lynne Tan

The artwork is as diverse as the artists, including Lynne Tan from Singapore. Lynne’s clay pieces are simple yet stunning. She appreciates being able to work when the mood strikes—artists have 24/7 access. “This is my space, and I can come here anytime,” Lynne says. She also plans to show her installation piece Offering in Celebration of Mostly Grey at Grand Rapids ArtPrize, September 19–October 7.

Other artists include:

  • Besides showing her art, which has an Oriental flare, Elaine Harju reserves wall space for her photographer husband’s work.
  • A rainbow of colored pencils fills Susan Schirmer’s desk. She illustrates books and like most artists at the Box Factory, offers private lessons.

    Artist Susan Schirmer

  • Light streams in Jan Sonneman’s studio space, which she’s rented since 1997. Jan creates jewelry and collages from torn pieces of magazines and newspapers.
  • Bob William’s artwork looks like photography, but upon close examination, you’ll see the medium is paint.
  • A graphic designer by trade, Robin Maxon works in watercolor and among other things, designs wine bottle labels for Karma Vista Vineyard, an area winery.
  • Find Vicki Cook during the week (Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) in her studio on the lower level. She creates jewelry from metals such as sterling, gold and copper.
  • Fiber artist Gwen Jones works on a loom set up in the lower level hallway.
  • Fractual artist, James O’Haver, uses mathematical formulas to create complex works of art. Just like looking at clouds, everyone sees something different in his work. Depending on the piece, I see an extremely intricate snowflake, vibrant spiral and bursting bubbles.

Box Factory for the Arts is free and open to the public Monday through Saturday (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and Sunday (1 to 4 p.m.).

Feeling inspired by her visit to the Box, Kristin Bienert went home and dug out her calligraphy materials with the goal of practicing her letter writing on a weekly basis.

Peter Greenberg Puts Spotlight on Ann Arbor, Michigan

When you think of Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan might first come to mind. But did you know that Ann Arbor is also home to a number of unique cafes, storefronts and art galleries? With a mix of eclectic shopping, world-renowned music venues and more than 200 restaurants, it’s a town that offers something for everyone.

This past Saturday, May 26th, Peter Greenberg put Ann Arbor in the spotlight to explore these unique offerings during his weekly radio show. While broadcasting from the University of Michigan Museum of Art, Peter spoke with local influencers and subject matter experts that helped him answer questions like “How did the town of Ann Arbor gets its start?” and “What on earth is a ‘fairy-door’?”

Guests include:

  • Dhani Jones, former University of Michigan football star and current collaborator on the non-profit organization Bow Ties for a Cause
  • Tom Murray, owner of Conor O’Neills, Ann Arbor’s “real” Irish Pub
  • Jonathan Wright, founder of and creator of Ann Arbor’s “fairy-doors”
  • Joseph Rosa, director of the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA)

Check out a recap at, or visit iTunes or to download the full show.