Nonprofit offers activities for all ages, abilities

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Arts for All of Northern Michigan has been around for 21 years, but the name changed a couple times before it became an independent nonprofit organization a few years ago.

Despite these changes, Executive Director Grace Hudson said the group continues to offer the same services. The nonprofit focuses on teens and adults with disabilities, but Hudson said they aim to provide accessible art opportunities for everyone.

One way they do this is through programs like Art Escapes. Hudson said they currently have about 12 local artists offering work-shops in more than 25 classrooms, including a recent expansion to Leelanau County schools.

“It’s our longest running program,” Hudson told the Traverse City Record-Eagle . “It’s everything from fine arts to visual arts to storytelling.”

Grants from the Youth Advisory Council allow for after-school programs in Leelanau, Benzie, Kalkaska and Antrim counties. Hudson said these “promote a safe place and mental health.”

Another longtime program is Kids on the Block, a national initiative that uses puppets to teach kids about bullying and healthy habits. Though the program is geared toward third graders, Hudson said it can be used in elementary schools throughout the five-county area.

“The way that they react to those puppets is unbelievable sometimes,” she said. “They really connect with it.”

Teens and adults can also take advantage of social outings. Hudson said this includes the free monthly ACCESS program and five dances per year at the Elks Lodge.

“This is our best attended event,” she said.

The organization is working to add an ACCESS junior for elementary students and an adaptive playgroup for 0-3 year olds, Hudson said.

“We’re really trying to work on that early childhood piece,” she said.

Hudson added that their plans include obtaining a larger space to host activities and regular office hours. Arts for All of Northern Michigan currently shares a building with the SOS Learning Lab.

Board Chairperson Claire Walters, who has been involved with Arts for All of Northern Michigan for about six years, said her parents’ careers influenced her interest in accessible arts.

“I had grown up with my mom being a teacher for students with disabilities,” she said. “I became inspired by their work.”

Walters’ favorite is the quarterly dances, where she meets with parents and sees the changes in the attendees.

“It’s such a joyful occasion,” Walters said. “It’s the most rewarding because it’s so immediate, the impact of it.”

Hudson said event volunteers and teaching artists are always needed, particularly in the surrounding counties.