Artworks is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that offers programming to bring the arts to life in central Michigan They offer educational programs, summer art camps, a foreign film series, book clubs, and provide many ways in which the public can be involved in the creative community. In addition, Artworks is also an art center and they have a large gallery for local and visiting art and cultural exhibits.
Artworks’ roots go back to the 1980s when two groups, the Mecosta County Council for the Arts and the Humanities Council of West Central Michigan, were formed to promote arts and humanities in central Michigan. One of their most notable events was Paris in the Park. The arts council also started the Labor Day Arts & Craft Fair, which is now facilitated by the Chamber of Commerce. The humanities council had a strong speaker’s bureau connecting people with knowledge to those that wanted to learn and offered anything from archeology to bird watching. This council also highlighted local historical homes through a featured walk that integrated the trees of our community. They were also instrumental in the sesquicentennial celebration for Big Rapids and the Founding Women of Mecosta County display that they created will be used in 2020 as part of the 100-year anniversary of women’s right to vote celebration. Much work was done by many volunteers that continues today.
In 2000, a conversation was started with the Arts council, the Big Rapids Downtown Business Association and the Mecosta County Chamber of Commerce to determine if a gallery could be supported in our community. The community showed their support by contributing over $10,000 within a week. The Arts Council opened a non-profit art gallery in downtown Big Rapids where local artists could exhibit, sell their art and also have workshops and programs to teach and promote the arts. The Humanities Council relocated to the gallery and began to collaborate with the Arts Council to hold literature and poetry readings, author signings, travel series, foreign films, children’s summer and after school programs, art classes, and plays appropriate for small venues in the new joint space.
In 2005, the two groups initiated a merger into a single arts and humanities organization. The transition was complete in early 2006, and the Mecosta-Osceola Council for the Humanities and Arts, or MOCHA, was established. The humanities council brought with them an endowed fund, which has grown from $12,000 to over $20,000. In 2007 the name was simplified to Artworks: Big Rapids Area Arts and Humanities. They purchased a building – one of the largest in downtown Big Rapids, near downtown’s main intersection – in 2006. In 2008, the City of Big Rapids applied for a Cool Cities grant and Artworks was a critical part of the request as there was a strong art and culture initiative throughout Michigan at that time. The state awarded the grant to the city and Artworks received support from the city to renovate the building increasing accessibility to all floors with the addition of an elevator, creating art incubators and a gallery space, and giving the front of the building a facelift, along with other enhancements for the building. Their original mortgage was paid off in 2019 thanks to a very generous donor. This type of community support from individuals as well as corporate groups and grants has long been a part of the art and humanities culture for the community.