ANTON ART CENTER
A Brief History
By Mary Smith and Phil Gilchrist
When the Art Center was first established in the historic Carnegie Library Building, the organization’s Founding Mothers (Bea Wright, Gretchen Thompson, and Phyllis Wickens) shared a vision to provide art classes for the community’s youth and establish a showcase for work by local artists. Art classes began being offered in the basement without delay, as volunteers worked to renovate the main level and prepare gallery spaces to show artwork. The first exhibit at the Anton Art Center, loaned to Macomb County’s new artistic venue by the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1970, was titled “Mother and Child.” It was a prolific beginning for what would become one of the community’s most ambitious and culturally nurturing institutions, committed to improving quality of life through access to the arts and the life-affirming gifts they have to offer.
Now in its 50th year and through the efforts of community members dedicated to its purpose, the Anton Art Center has become the largest and longest-standing visual arts and exhibiting organization in Macomb County. Its programming has been designed to appeal to all ages and backgrounds and provides experiences that sustain personal growth through a better understanding and appreciation of the arts. Thanks to efforts by Gebran S. and Suzanne P. Anton, the Center expanded its physical facility and completed a $1.7 million renovation and addition in 2007. In appreciation, the Board of Trustees voted to adopt a new name: the Anton Art Center. We know that for some who walk through its doors, it’s their first encounter with art and it is an experience that has the potential to be life changing. We do not take that responsibility lightly.
Many regard Macomb County primarily as a hub for manufacturing and defense, but the arts also have a strong presence with the Anton Art Center solidly at the center. Over the last few years, public art programs have grown across the county, arts commissions are being established, and greater attention is being paid to the importance of arts in education and health. Our own programs bring art experiences to thousands of people each year and help over 150 local artists annually earn income from their work. Considering our annual expenditures in combination with visitorship and its positive spillover into downtown Mount Clemens, we estimate that the Anton Art Center contributes nearly $1 million to the local economy each year. The difference made in individual lives, however, is immeasurable.
When the Art Center was first established, one of its key purposes was to provide arts experiences to the community’s children through classes and summer art programs. We proudly continue this educational tradition today, but our audience is no longer limited to the community’s youth. Increasingly, we are compelled to provide access to the arts to minorities, senior citizens, and the impoverished: members of society whose lives are bereft of art and its message of hope. After 50 years, our programming has expanded to include public art projects, musical performance, offsite engagements, greater outreach to partner organizations in the area to increase arts access, and advocacy of art and artists across the region.
Recent projects have brought new murals to downtown Mount Clemens, convened a broad swath of community stakeholders for workshops in creative thinking and problem solving, and engaged new audiences through free and interactive arts experiences. Targeted programs have provided art enrichment in Mount Clemens Schools and throughout our community at a variety of public festivals and gatherings. Today, our mission has evolved to enrich and inspire people of all ages through the arts, driven by a vision to create an open and diverse community joined together around the ideal of creative expression. More than ever, the Anton Art Center is working to elevate the arts and engage our community in both its appreciation and its creation.