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History of the Crooked Tree Arts Center

Crooked Tree Arts Center was founded in 1971 to sponsor and encourage activities in the arts for residents of Charlevoix and Emmet counties. It took less than ten years for the group to grow in stature to the point where it could purchase a building to serve as a center for arts endeavors in the region.

Founding members were:

Sally Clark, Edith Gilbert, Grace Jessop, Judie Koza, eddi Offield, Jack Perry, and Carolyn Rader

Once upon a time…
On a stormy January evening in 1971, a meeting “for all those interested i n the arts” was called to order in the basement of the Petoskey Public Library. Only seven people showed up to view an art film presented by the newly formed Michigan Council for the Arts. Jack Perry, a long-time resident of Petoskey, presided over the meeting and introduced a staff member from the Michigan Council for the Arts who had driven all the way north from Detroit to encourage the establishment of an arts council in Petoskey. It was not considered a very exciting event by those present, but the seed was planted, and that seed has since grown into the Crooked Tree Arts Center.

During the first year, the small group of founders met in each other’s homes. Sally Clark suggested the arts group be named “Crooked Tree” because the phrase referred to a noted local landmark important to Native Americans, some of whom had to travel over long distances to gather for the purpose of trading. The founders hoped that the Crooked Tree Arts Council, later renamed the Crooked Tree Arts Center (CTAC), would become a local landmark as well for those interested in gathering for experiences in the arts.

The purpose of the founders was threefold. First, they wanted to provide high quality cultural experiences for the residents of northern Michigan. Second, they wanted to encourage area artists and provide a means by which those artists could advance their professional careers. Third, the founders wanted to form an umbrella organization that could provide cultural services for the entire two-county area and avoid the unnecessary expenses inherent in a duplication of services by several small, independent organizations.

During the early years, CTAC operated out of member’s homes, the Petoskey Public Library, and borrowed office space at North Central Michigan College. CTAC provided the community with opportunities to enjoy professional touring performances in ballet, drama, opera, and symphonic music whenever funds permitted and wherever space was available. The Art Train, the annual youth art shows, and photography exhibits were presented on a regular basis. Music scholarships were given to local students, allowing them to study at Bay View and at the Interlochen Arts Academy.

Just as a tiny seedling needs room to grow and flourish, so CTAC needed its own space in which to thrive. In 1978, the old United Methodist Church (constructed in 1890) located in downtown Petoskey became available at the price of $125,000. A majority of the members of the Executive Committee of CTAC voted to buy the building even though they had no money at all.

The very young Crooked Tree Arts Council purchased the structure. “The Council members had no funds, no business plan, no treasurer, no accountant and no staff,” according to then president Betsy Willis, “ but they did have a lot of heart and a lot of soul.” The fledgling Board breathed new life into the old building. Modest renovations were undertaken, supported by local private funds, and just a few months later Michigan’s first lady, Helen Milliken, opened the new Arts Center, dedicating it to the people of Charlevoix and Emmet Counties.

Through forty years of service and sound stewardship, the Crooked Tree Arts Center has developed an excellent visual and performing arts program, managed by a professional staff with guidance from the board of directors, in a building now recognized as one of the community’s more important assets.

Through the efforts of volunteers, the Crooked Tree Arts Center has thrived. Membership has grown to over 2,000 individuals, many of whom are full time residents of Charlevoix or Emmet Counties and services are provided to over 50,000 individuals each year.


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