Natural light shines into every room in Oliver Art Center, and its location at the mouth of Betsie Bay creates a tranquil environment in which to admire art, put paintbrush to canvas, cook up a new recipe, or craft a dish in the pottery studio.
Housed in Frankfort’s former U.S. Coast Guard Station, Oliver Art Center serves as a community center of sorts, offering a variety of exhibits and school outreach programs, plus culinary, pottery, painting, drawing, fiber, jewelry, writing and wellness classes. The center operates year-round and charges no admission to view ongoing exhibits, which typically change every four to six weeks.
“You might not be from here, but when you visit here, you belong here,” said Executive Director Mercedes Michalowski. “There’s not a bad view out of any window. We’re definitely worth the drive.”
The property features serene views of the channel and bay, and the station’s former boathouse was transformed into exhibition galleries with an outdoor deck for small receptions. The ADA-accessible center includes a new entryway that connects to the galleries, classrooms, a demonstration kitchen, office space, gift shop, learning library, ceramics studio and a multiuse room that hosts films, pop-up exhibits, artists’ talks, meetings and more.
You might not be from here, but when you visit here, you belong here.
— Mercedes Michalowski
Oliver Art Center focuses on serving Benzie County residents and youth, but its art and culinary classes and exhibits draw residents, and sometimes vacationers, from throughout northern Michigan.
The nonprofit center, supported by donations, memberships, grants and fundraisers, has at least one member from every state and receives over 12,000 visitors annually. Many seasonal residents and professional artists are members and participate in the biannual member exhibitions.
“It’s rich in arts and culture in this region, and we’re lucky to be a part of it,” Michalowski said. “I think we function as a community center. When people come back from snow birding in the winter, we’re their first stop. Our events are very big social gatherings.”
The center hosts a variety of exhibits throughout the year, including a spring student show, solo and group artists, and an annual Regional Juried Exhibition which runs through Oct. 23. This fall, a multimedia show by professors of Northern Michigan University’s Visual Arts Department is on display Oct. 30-Dec. 4.
“You are going to see landscapes and still lifes, but the majority of the work we tend to show is abstract,” Michalowski said. “We like to incite conversation. Even if you say how much you hate it, we’re happy we at least got you talking about it.”
The nonprofit art center first opened in 1948 and was formerly known as Crystal Lake Art Center. The community raised $3.5 million to renovate the historic 1934 Coast Guard Station, and the center’s board of directors entered into an agreement with the city of Frankfort to maintain the facility. The center rebranded as Elizabeth Lane Oliver Center for the Arts, after the original founder, when it moved to the waterfront location in 2011.
The art center earned LEED platinum certification in 2013 — the first for a building in northern Michigan — as well as Michigan Historic Preservation Network’s 2014 “Building Award.”
If you go:
Oliver Art Center
132 Coast Guard Road, Frankfort
Hours: 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday; noon-4 p.m. Sunday
— Marla R. Miller