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Victory in the face of adversity

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Victory in the face of adversity

The Ann Arbor Art
Association shows that being
a non-profit arts organization
in these waning days of the
20th century is an art in itself






Marsha Chamberlin, executive director of the Ann Arbor Art Association.

n the world of art — these days
assailed by budget cuts, the
" television generation and

grumpy, finger-pointing legislators
— a victory for one can be a vic-
tory for many.

The Ann Arbor Art Association
represents one such success, con-
tinuing to quietly demonstrate that
being a non"profit arts organization
in these waning days of the 20th
century is an art in itself.

Since its founding 80 years ago,
the AAAA has grown from 200

mbers (who enjoyed such lec-
ii? res as "How to Judge a Picture,"
"Hoyy to Judge a Piece of Sculp-
ture" and "How to Judge a Work of
Architecture") to a wide-reaching
organization with 1,000 members,
3,000 students and an annual oper-
: ' ' t of almost $500,000.

the century-old Walker
Carriage Works building at 117 W.
Liberty St. — home to the AAAA —
can mean as little as a soothing ref-
uge from the bustle of flow n< own or
as much as a chano cover
that OUF T—^e of son ^?r
artwork 'I make <",. t
home complete* Hen i
members sell their wo . g
pottery, pair' 'T i nts, wearable
art, jewelry . milage. Here is

ere the classically rendered and
ntifiil sit side by side with art

described as "Ann
or — lini^y, intelligent and of-

The AAAA's E^ i ! ^ s1 Director
Marsha Chamber a similar
collage of contrasts and styles. She
is a woman with a vision — and the
means to carry it out.

Veering sharply away from her
background in criminal justice,
Chamberlin took over leadership of
the association in 1979, the year the
""diigan Council for the Arts first

, propriated funds for the hiring of
a full-time administrator. In those
10 years, the Art Association has

^erienced continued growth, ro-

-t fiscal fitness and reached its

^1 of becoming a true communi-
ty-service organization.

While her leadership is directly

. ..,.!..,;..•..;. , .,..,. -

out that many hands — marr^ .-'n tit-
tered with paint — are . k

e. The facile interplay of staff,
oiunteers and board of directors is
the key, says Chamberlin.

"The planning process here is an
interactive and fluid one," she says.
"Ideas come from volunteers, staff
and from me, and then go to the


boardJ And the process goes in re-
verse, too. We're enormously fortu-
nate to have a realJv fwd board of
directors. People ir time
and experience very generously,
but they also have a tremendous
amount of res; 11;^ staff. If
an issue conw ird often
asks, 'What would be the staff's
recommendation on this?'"

Of relation's 18-member
board, m kast three-quarters at-
tend any one board meeting. And,
says Chamberlin, most members^
complete their five-year term oft
service before moving on.

When pressed to identify the rea-
? -tiveness
01 iiic ^i\i\i\ DO^I-U, AOC man and board President Michael
Wilens had no ready response.

"I wish I had the magic answer!"
he said. ,

"I've been on the board five!
years and during that time there's
been a lot of growth and change.
The board used to be comprised of
interested (Art Association) mem-
bers and each had their own do-
main — classes, or the gallery
shop, but no one liked development.
My single most important objec-
tive — and Marsha's too, was to
chanpi " " ". ' d to
coiner .— — ...,.-»..,„, n,. nature.;

of the organization.

"As we went, we were picky
about who we put on the board. We
looked for business people and oth-
er professionals who had demon-
strated similar commitment to
their professions. We slowly draw
them in and pique their interest.
We work hard to make being on the
board fun."

Careful planning and austere but
consistent implementation I ' ^
be behind much of the Art A,.. .
tion's growth. "We be pret-
ty con'-'^"?^"^ " c" "nberlin.
"In th you can,
take more nsKs, out wnen we want^
to do product development, we'
really have to test the waters. The^
education department is the best

"Eight to 10 years a^o. there1
were just classes s
We decided we r£ *
sibility to the (

liberately set out to uesign the Art
Start program for disadvantaged
kids. We designed the program and
did the research and ran that pro-
gram for almost two years before
we increased staff time to suDDort
it. As it really got g

funding, we increa i 10 en-
sure that the pro^ fuld run i

See ART, F2



Art Start now reaches 300 eco-
nomically disadvantaged kids per
vear, providing art classes in com-
munity centers throughout the city.
Art Van Go, another of the AAAA's
outreach programs, and dr I
with the assistance of the .....1.,?
Service League of Ann Arbor,
transports art classes to special au-
diences in outlying areas via a fully
equipped mobile unit. The hearing
impaired, developmentally dis-
abled ann rnrHned seniors are
among th varies of the pro-
gran On is a
progi ,' mjunction
with the U-M Museum of Art. It
brings schoolchildren on field trips,
first to the museum for a special
exhibit, then to the As^'-'^^'n for
a hands-on experienc- d to
the exhibit. All this is in aodmon to
the 23 different subjects in 12 dif-
feren* ^ uh:^ ireofferedfor
adult , .;.». n .iroughout the
year in the association's home

Clearly, community outreach is
seen as a crucial element in the life
of this organization. Crucial be-
cause education about and expo-
sure to the arts are the most effec-
tive weapons against what

Chamberlin and others in the field
perceive as a potential blight of
governmental censorship and prej-
udice, as illustrated by the recent
saga of Washington D.C.'s Corcoran
Gallery's cancellation of the con-
troversial Robert Mapplethorpe

Says Chamberlin: "Had the
Helms Amendment been fully suc-
cessful, it would have opened up
the floodgates for additional pro-
test like that. It was really a
'damned if you do, dann ' '" vou
don't kind of thing, but I ,iink
the curator (of the Corcoran) made
the right decision. The process of
selection of ^s (in the Nation-
al Endown r the Arts) is a
th was just over-
wh^iiied by the Mapplethorpe ex-
hibition — I saw it in Chicago; the
skill, images and design were just
so sophisticated."

Making the arts a vi^ ^^ of
the community, allowing . ^ ,one
access to c session, giv-
ing people !ary to sim-
ply discuss controv Uke the
Helms/Mapplethorpc ,,Jeal —
that, Chamberlin believes is the
role of the AAAA.

"We want to become even more
involved in the nimunity. We
want to try to n ;ne links be-
tween the arts and people's every-

day life. The visual arts suite?
from that rarified atmosphere
when people think about art, the}
think about museums, not about th^
fact that fl1< S1;- "^ - -s a vi
sual arti it. no'
about the art on V^
never want to cil^coi.r^oC vXpun'
mental art — that's absolutely es-
sential. But to appreciate the ex-
perimental, people need to feel the
arts are somethirr '1 have emo-
tional, psycholog d intellec
tual access to.

"We all use aesthetic judgement
every day, and don't even realize it.
It's in the clothes we put on, the
furniture people choose for their
office. To the e^ "at we can!
get people to 1; bout those
things, we demystify the art
many people think that art is som^
thing for only a few people in the'
world — oddballs, or whatever.

"The more that people can have
contact with the arts, the better.
The first piece of art many people
buy is a functional coffeepot, by a
potter, but maybe from there, they
go to a piece of sculpture. They be-
gin to learn the language enough
that — they might not go to the
Mapplethorpe exhibit -— but they
could read about it, and understand
what he was trying to do."


Frances Farmer works al her easel during one of the classes offered by the Art Association*