This July, Emmet County’s Bay Harbor will break ground on the Great Lakes Center for the Arts, a regional, national, and international destination for the cultural arts. Scheduled to open in July 2018, the year-round center will have an emphasis in the summer on large scale festivals, and will collaborate with locally established arts organizations.

Programming will include everything from classical and jazz to country music performances and children’s series. The Center will include a 500-seat theater with private box areas, an exclusive donor lounge, a rooftop patio, and more.

We talked with Jill O’Neill of the Great Lakes Center for the Arts about the project and how it will affect the Northern Michigan art and music scene.

Q: How many years has this project been in the making?

“The vision of a purpose-built, state-of-the-art performing arts center dates back over 15 years, to the 2000 Bay Harbor Master Plan and even earlier to a 1999 Community Cultural Plan for Emmet and Charlevoix Counties.

“Feasibility studies were conducted and a variety of frameworks considered. In 2014, the Great Lakes Center for the Arts became a reality with two very generous donors stepping forward with lead funding. The Center is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and a capital campaign is underway with $20.2 million raised toward a $25 million capital goal.”

Q: What is the inspiration behind the project?

“The 1999 Community Cultural Plan noted that cultural facilities represent an important cornerstone of the culture of a community. That it is often difficult for arts and cultural organizations to grow and thrive without venues which are welcoming and comfortable for audiences, and technically suitable for artists. And this study noted that ‘Aside from the summer-only performance venues at Bay View, the relatively small McCune Art Center theater, and a number of churches and school facilities, there were no mid-sized or larger venues to accommodate performing arts in the two counties.'”

Q: Why was Northern Michigan, specifically Bay Harbor chosen as the location?

“The Great Lakes Center for the Arts is located in the heart of the Bay Harbor Village on a parcel of land donated by the developer of the Bay Harbor Resort. This site is ideal in that it is centrally located between the communities of Charlevoix, Harbor Springs, and Boyne City and part of the City of Petoskey. The Center is directly across the street from The Original Pancake House, a familiar location to many, and this location is easily accessible from US-31 and even by boat. Patrons will also enjoy its views along Lake Michigan from a large rooftop patio.

“There is so much natural beauty in Northern Michigan with outstanding opportunities to experience the outdoors. Building on this, the Great Lakes Center for the Arts will greatly enhance opportunities for inspirational cultural experiences for those who live here year-round, seasonally or just visiting for a short time. By enriching the cultural fabric of this area we cherish, it is our goal that more young people will make this part of Northern Michigan their home, employers will be better able to recruit and retain qualified employees, and year-round and seasonal residents can more often enjoy entertainment and performances right here instead of traveling elsewhere.”

Q: Are you already scheduling the performances and programs for the 2018 opening season?

“The opening season line-up will be announced as we get closer to our grand opening in 2018. Expect programming to include all genres of music, dance, and theater from classical to country, from ballet to comedians. Many are also excited about the intellectual dialogue we expect to host at the Center with thought leaders drawn from politics, sports, and the arts. The final component will be an impactful education program connecting the artists performing at the Center with the region’s children and young people.”

Q: Will you be collaborating with members of the local art scene such as the Crooked Tree Arts Center?

“Absolutely, the Center is dedicated to collaborating with all interested arts organizations and finding ways that we can advance everyone’s missions by working together. There are many creative discussions underway to work together and enhance the arts for all of Northern Michigan.”

Q: What will this Center mean to and offer the Northern Michigan art community?

“The impact on Northern Michigan arts and entertainment is as limitless as our community’s imagination. The Great Lakes Center for the Arts is providing a welcoming, beautiful venue to host the wonderful artists and institutions we have in the region and throughout Michigan. The Center will utilize the talented team of arts professionals it is building to connect Northern Michigan audiences to performers truly from around the world and engage these amazing artists with students around the region through the Center’s educational programming.”

Q: Is there anything you’d like to add?

“Anyone interested in learning more is invited to visit our website”

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Photo(s) by Great Lakes Center for the Arts