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Art & Soul: The Visual Arts – Meet The New Executive Director At Riverside Arts Center In Ypsilanti

Impacted like a lot of other arts organizations during the pandemic, the Riverside Arts Center in Ypsilanti has had its share of ups and downs. But there is a new executive director: Amy Fracker. She talks with Lisa Barry and Omari Rush about her vision for the Ypsilanti arts facility and how she hopes to serve and connect with the local arts community moving forward.


Lisa Barry: [00:00:00] You’re listening to Eighty Nine One WEMU, and this is Art and Soul. I’m Lisa Barry, and this week, Art and Soul is about the visual arts. So, that means I’m joined by the chair of the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs and executive director of CultureSource, Omari Rush. Hi, Omari.

Omari Rush: [00:00:17] Hi, Lisa. [00:00:17][0.0]

Lisa Barry: [00:00:18] And our guest is the recently appointed executive director of Riverside Art Center in Ypsilanti, Amy Fracker. Welcome, Amy.

Amy Fracker: [00:00:25] Hello. How are you?

Lisa Barry: [00:00:27] Amy joins the art center now celebrating 25 years in the community and dealing with a pandemic that has resulted in some changes over the past year and a half. So, why don’t you begin with how you see your role now in this new position?

Amy Fracker: [00:00:40] I’m so happy to be in Ypsilanti. It’s an amazing, amazing community. And I graduated from EMU years ago, and it’s great to be back in town and see some of the changes that have happened in the community. You know, when we go through a crisis, it reminds me of the importance of arts. And I noticed, through the pandemic, that so many people found art again. Went to the arts for a coping mechanism or a stress reliever. And so, as I enter this new position, I think, well, how can we remind people of that importance? And there’s nothing like creating an art center that will do it for you. So, we have been around for twenty five years, essentially as a rental facility. And the founding members of our organization, they were so smart in that model to begin with because they saw this beautiful Masonic Temple building and wanted to save it, wanted to preserve it, and wanted to create an art center. But how do you do that when everybody has a real profession, so to speak? So, they created this model of we’re going to let artists come in, rent the space, use it. And that worked for about twenty five years. And now, we’re looking at really defining what a community art center does and is and how we can make it essential for our community, because we know that the arts are a driving force for economic development. And so we want to be able to provide lots of opportunities for everyone to become part of our new beginning.

Omari Rush: [00:02:13] You know, Amy, that all sounds really wonderful and just congrats from a gig. You know, we’re excited to have you in this role. We start with the building itself. Could you just see a little bit about it and its spaces and how you’re thinking about those spaces in the vision moving forward, like a kind of a reintroduction of the building?

Amy Fracker: [00:02:36] It will be. We are going to have a reopening in March and reintroduce what we are. But it’s a beautiful Masonic temple. And then right next to that is a building that we call the off center. And it’s filled with we have studio spaces. We have an amazing theater that different theater companies rent and put on productions. We have a dance studio. Peter Sparling was just here doing artist in residency. That’s one thing that we did over the pandemic is we had individual artists come and use the space, and then we cleaned it down, sanitized it right after everybody left, and then had someone come in again. But they were able to create and work on some of their projects, one-on-one. So, he just was here. We have a lot of space and areas that we’re looking at. How do we create them? So, one thing that I really want to do is create a maker space, so that when you’re walking down the street, you can come in and engage in doing something and have this space where we have found objects and art supplies and anything that you want. There’ll be someone here, a volunteer here to say, “What would you like to create?” We want to have partnerships and work with different people in our community. I can’t tell you exactly what we’re doing, but there’s some really good stuff that’s coming down the pike that it’s been fun to really meet the people at Ypsi and and work with them to say, “Look, what can we do with you to make this a great opportunity to have people not just in Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, everywhere around. We want to be a dynamic art center that people come to Ypsi to experience.

Lisa Barry: [00:04:17] Let’s talk about something that people don’t really talk about, and that’s the affordability of art across Washtenaw County. I’m hearing that Ypsilanti is more accessible to some artists and has possibly more opportunities because of where it’s located.

Amy Fracker: [00:04:32] Yeah, I mean, we are looking at ourselves as a startup in a way, because we get to design and implement what goes on inside the building. We’re looking at every space in here and deciding, “Oh, what can we do?” And when we do that, we say, “Well, what can people afford to do?” I love a sliding C-scale. I love it so much because it makes it affordable for everyone. So, in order to do that, we will be looking at sponsors and donors to help provide that cushion, so that someone who can’t afford to come in and pay a thousand dollars for a dance class will be able to come in and do it, hopefully for thirty five dollars a month, something that’s really reasonable. But the consistency, that ability to come in once a week and do something creative. Oh, it’s going to be great. And after-school opportunities as well. You know, we are right by a bus line here on Huron Street. And what a great way right after school. Kids can come here, do something, and their parents can pick them up here after a long day at school and having the arts to help them de-stress from all that they’ve been doing during the day.

Omari Rush: [00:05:46] Yeah. Amy, let’s just assume that all that you’re saying is just a completely energizing people are listening because, you know, it energizes me and I’m sure Lisa as well. What are you hoping that people will do? Like how should people now be thinking about connecting with you or connecting with Riverside? Where do you want people’s minds to go in terms of their own possibilities?

Amy Fracker: [00:06:10] Oh, I love that question. Thank you for asking that. I want people to be able to walk down the street, open the door, come into this building, and find something that they might never have seen before. Maybe they’ve seen it before, but experience something in a different way, all relating to the arts. We truly want to be accessible to everyone. So I really want to do a summer camp that’s focused on manufacturing and production, because that’s exactly what the arts are. You look at the apprenticeships in the Renaissance or Andy Warhol factory. It all revolves around those processes and those steps, and I think would be great for kids to reinforce that idea of how you get things done in the art world. That’s how we do it. That’s how you learn. So, our summer camps are going to be really important that people can get involved. If you want to mentor, if you want to, if you’re retired, and you want to come and take a class, send me an email, tell me what kind of class you’d like to do. And that’s how I think people can really get involved.

Omari Rush: [00:07:14] It just all sounds so responsive and just exciting, you know? And every city, every town deserves an arts center, a real hub of creative activity.

Amy Fracker: [00:07:27] Yeah, yeah. I love it. I just spoke with EMU and our theater department. We’re looking at creating a partnership where we can do low sensory performance at least once a year for our friends with special needs, so that if you’re on the autistic spectrum, you can come in and have an experience where the lights are up. We are anticipating interruptions because of how your brain works, and we are truly dedicated to our special needs family.

Lisa Barry: [00:07:59] That is Amy Fracker, new executive director of Riverside Arts Center in Ypsilanti. We look forward to seeing what you will bring to the center. And Omari Rush, always good talking to you as well.

Omari Rush: [00:08:11] Likewise, Lisa.

Amy Fracker: [00:08:11] Thank you so much.


**Special thanks to Paul Keller for providing the Art & Soul theme music.**

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at [email protected]