A look inside the Greater Flint Arts Council

FLINT, Michigan—For many, the mention of the Greater Flint Arts Council brings visions of the building with the Vernor’s mural on South Saginaw Street in Flint, a building it acquired in 1998 after fire destroyed one of the two buildings that housed the former Peerless Furniture store. But the GFAC is much more than the exhibition and office space the agency now occupies.

The council began 50 years ago as a reaction to the founding of the National Endowment for the Arts and the Michigan Council for the Arts, established as the local conduit for funding channeled down from the national and state organizations, said Greg Fiedler, president and CEO of the Greater Flint Arts Council.

“The mission of the arts council is a mission of service to the community,” says Fiedler. “There are almost 100 different arts organizations on their own mission. Where do you tie that all together?” says Fiedler. “That is the mission of the arts council.”

Related: Flint's downtown ArtWalk: 20-plus venues, a few thousand fans, and art galore every month

“The whole idea is to build outlets and audience at the same time,” he says. “You might be interested in seeing a show or seeing an exhibit but you might also be interested in turning a bowl on a clay wheel. We want to make sure you know where to go for those things.”

The council serves artists, art agencies, art educators, and the public. The Greater Flint Arts Council also is instrumental in establishing and maintaining Second Friday ArtWalk, the monthly art crawl through more than 20 downtown Flint venues that draws thousands to downtown Flint. 

“We do programming and consulting and partnership building at all levels,” says Fiedler. “We understand the next generation is not going to be familiar with the arts or interested unless you begin building it at a young age,” he says. The facility hosts the local high school annual art show—often giving students their first experience participating in a professionally curated art show. It is also the venue for the annual University of Michigan-Flint art show.

Fiedler became the GFAC president in 1993 after a career as human relations manager for Hamady Brothers Food Markets. Fiedler believes the continuity of the arts and cultural programs has helped the city of Flint endure the economic recession, the housing crisis, and the water crisis. “We’d already built this sense of community and we didn’t let it die no matter what kinds of crises we were going through. We didn’t end the important programs just because we were in a recession,” he says  “We lost whole neighborhoods but we didn’t lose our sense of community,” says Fiedler. “It was really exciting to be a part of that, to be one piece of the recipe.”

“In a lot of ways were are very grassroots here, but we have a gargantuan impact. We have David-funding but Goliath-impact. It’s very rewarding to see that kind of thing happening.”
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Read more articles by Bruce Edwards.