You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Sun, May 9, 2010 : 5:32 a.m.

Ann Arbor area entrepreneurs using creativity to rebuild economy

By Tamara Real

Amid the stories of lost jobs and declining industries, there are encouraging signs of economic vitality. Area entrepreneurs are using their innate creativity to grow small businesses that could lead the way to a new economic flowering for the greater Ann Arbor area. Let's a take a quick tour of the county and some of its creative entrepreneurs.


Joy Naylor, a local arts consultant, might be called a "serial entrepreneur" if her startups focused on "typical"; businesses rather than arts-based enterprises. In 1983, she opened Distinct Designs Inc., a firm that advises corporate clients in acquiring and installing original artwork.

Responding to market trends, she and associate Diane Bennett have recently launched a second business, Budding Art Ideas. This new business focuses on attracting arts enthusiasts to the Ann Arbor area for mini-getaway vacations that offer arts classes with top-notch instructors.

In Saline, two retired art teachers have identified a novel way to expand their home-based business while at the same time putting a foreclosed property back on the tax rolls. For several years, Taylor and Charlene Jacobsen have offered art classes at the Saline Mills, their picturesque complex of historic buildings.

The studios' reliance on wood-burning stoves for heat, however, has limited the number of classes the Jacobsens could offer during the winter months. When they spotted a foreclosed home just down the road from the Mills, they recognized an opportunity to expand their teaching program. Taylor and Charlene have creatively repaired and renovated the home, transforming its living and dining rooms into year-round art studios and retaining the bedrooms to accommodate out-of-town visitors and students taking multi-day arts classes.

In Ypsilanti, James Marks, the founder of the printing company VG Kids, has taken a long-empty office building and successfully filled its 30-plus spaces with artists and musicians of all kinds.

Demand for affordable artists work space is such that many young creators travel regularly from the Ann Arbor area to Detroit to pursue their craft. Marks' SPUR Studios is providing a welcome alternate to that gas-guzzling trip to Detroit and he is now looking for additional space.

In Chelsea, city leaders have recognized the economic validity of the arts and are consciously employing an arts-based strategy to burnish their city's image. Their collaborative spirit prompted Rocco Landesman, the newly appointed director of the National Endowment for the Arts, to spend the better part of a day in Chelsea, meeting with such local arts leaders as Deb Greer and Patti Schwartz, owners of the River Gallery, among others.

Chelsea's mix of small-town charm with an arts community that supports economic vitality prompted Landesman to highlight Chelsea in his 2011 budget presentation to Congress.

The Arts Alliance's Art Meets Business program is enabling 30 creative entrepreneurs (aka artists) to hone their business skills through a highly personalized coaching and mentoring program expertly led by businesswoman and jeweler Sandra Xenakis.

Throughout Washtenaw County, creative individuals are flying under the radar and helping to rebuild our economy in new ways. Perhaps it's time for our economic leaders to consider nurturing our indigenous arts entrepreneurs along with such imported species as bio-technology and high-tech.

Contact Tamara Real at The Arts Alliance, 734-213-2566.