New Coalition of Muskegon County Cultural Leaders Releases Video Highlighting the Impact of Arts & Culture

submitted by Andy Buelow

MUSKEGON COUNTY: A new coalition of area cultural organizations has announced its presence with a flourish by releasing a powerful video highlighting the positive impact of arts and culture on a revitalized Muskegon and the surrounding area.

The six-minute video, produced by gifted videographer Arvin Candelaria, features interviews with community leaders, including Frank Bednarek, Muskegon Museum of Art Chair and Capital Campaign Co-Chair of the Playhouse at White Lake; Tom Harryman, faculty member at Muskegon Community College; Amy Heisser, Director of Shared Services at Arconic; Todd Jacobs, President of the Community Foundation for Muskegon County; Cindy Larsen, President of Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce; Visit Muskegon President Bob Lukens; Marvin Nash, Chairman of the CFFMC Frauenthal Committee; Asaline Scott, CEO of Harbor Development and Consulting; Scott Speck, Music Director of West Michigan Symphony; F. Remington Sprague, MD, Chief Medical Officer of Mercy Health, and Joe Zappacosta, Director of Hackley Public Library. The video can be viewed on YouTube at this link:

These leaders speak from their own experience regarding the impact cultural organizations are having on the area’s vibrancy. “Arts and culture help build us as a destination,” said Lukens, citing local organizations’ estimated economic impact of more than $13 million annually. Heisser agreed: “They don’t just serve Muskegon County residents. We attract people from throughout Michigan, and now with the cruise ships, we are open to the world!”

“Look how the Muskegon region has become a thriving hub of arts and culture,” said Speck. “That has done more than just increase the economic prospects and liveliness of the area. It has changed people’s mindsets.”

Evident throughout the video is the way arts, business and government leaders are effectively leveraging techniques of creative placemaking to reinvent the physical and social character of the community. According to the Mayors’ Institute on City Design, a leadership initiative of the United States Conference of Mayors in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, “Creative placemaking animates public and private spaces, rejuvenates structures and streetscapes, improves local business viability and public safety, and brings diverse people together.”

Local examples are legion. They include the recent renovation of The Playhouse at White Lake as the central anchor of downtown Whitehall. Another case is urban artist Jube Rodriguez’s new Third Street Mural, created in partnership with Muskegon Museum of Art, Community enCompass, civic and business leaders. Currently in the works is a partnership between Muskegon Rotary and the West Michigan Symphony to bring all-weather, permanently-mounted outdoor musical instruments to parks in Muskegon and Muskegon Heights. The first installation took place in August at McLaughlin Neighborhood Park.

Projects like these demonstrate the way arts and culture are the connecting link between urban renewal and community engagement. Creative placemaking means utilizing the arts to help solve community issues while involving the community every step of the way.

It also illustrates the symbiotic relationship between the bourgeoning economic vitality of the region and its investment in a vibrant cultural sector—a sector that spawns projects and spinoff growth that transcend the actual patronage of its anchor venues. The resulting environment attracts more people to the area—including cultural tourists and urban residents. Larsen cites the cultural sector as a key factor in talent recruitment, one of the Chamber’s most important priorities. The process accelerates as increasing economic support enables the sector to further expand its footprint. Ultimately, this creates a cycle that generates its own motive power.

The Muskegon Area Cultural Coalition (MAACC) formed in 2018 in the wake of an influx of new leadership in the area culture sector. Current members include Beth Beaman of The Playhouse at White Lake, Jason Bertoia of Muskegon Civic Theatre, Andy Buelow of West Michigan Symphony, Kirk Hallman of Muskegon Museum of Art, Eric Messing of the Frauenthal Center, Annoesjka Soler of Lakeshore Museum Center, and Joseph Zappacosta of Hackley Public Library. The organizations collectively employ more than 100, attract 100,000 patrons and tourists annually, and provide an economic impact of more than $13 million.