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Photo by Gary Anderson
Interview by Jeremy Benson

This past winter, Midland High junior Chris McDonald, himself an acoustic guitarist, created a Facebook group to support his fellow artists. Now, with help from Ben Cohen and Phoenix Productions, his idea has grown into an exposition featuring the creative work of local high school students.

Jeremy Benson: What is an Alt. Art Expo?

Chris McDonald: There's a lot of talented kids in our high schools, just walking through the halls everyday, and most of them don't have a very good venue to play or show their art. I thought it would be interesting if I created a group to support those artists. Certainly the show will also include mainstream artists that have a lot of opportunities through the school as well.

JB: That group was "Alternate Arts in Public Schools?"

CMD: Yes, I started the group on Facebook. It's a group of students, mainly organized through Midland.

At first I thought we'd just have a website to share and display the art, but Ben Cohen from Phoenix Productions contacted me. We talked and decided it'd be cool to do a show that would cover all art forms, presumably targeted toward high school artists. So that's how it all started.

JB: Has the group sponsored other events?

CMD: No, this is the first one. We're excited.

JB: How much work have you had to do to organize the event?

CMD: This is the first time I've done anything like this, so to me it's a lot. It's a learning curve, I guess. A lot of it has been meetings and getting permission, like getting advertisements on school announcements. Just today I was out trying to get businesses to help sponsor the event.

But I've had help. Ben has really helped me out. He knows a lot more about what he's doing than I do. Also helping me a lot through the process were Katie Grunder from Midland High, and Sarah and Colleen from the Creative 360 as well.

JB: Was creative 360 the venue from the beginning?

CMD: I anticipated that we would at least try to talk with them about hosting the show. We were trying to figure out where we wanted to have it; we wanted it to be the best possible venue for an event like this. In Midland, it's hard to find a big gallery with a stage right there.

After contacting them I actually found out that they were interested in pursuing a show like this, so the timing was perfect, I guess.

Creative 360 has been really supportive through the entire thing. They've been helpful in the planning process, and they're going to help with setting up and taking down the show. They're a good group to work with.

JB: Is the expo mostly students from Midland schools?

CMD: We tried to open it up. Ben Cohen contacted art teachers from Bullet Creek, Meridian, and Midland Christian. I think he even talked to some people from Bay City Western and Central. So mainly Midland schools, but not just Midland Public Schools. Unfortunately, most of the people who signed up are from Midland, mainly because I go there, and it’s easier for me to advertise. But we do have a few other schools represented.

JB: What kind of exhibits can people expect to see?

CMD: Everything. Of course, we have the target groups, like the artists, painters, and the musicians, which we kind of expected, because there's a ton of musicians and a ton of artists. We also have some photographers, which we are incredibly excited about. We also have a poet, I think, and some people who are dancing. We didn't get any sculptors, unfortunately. I was hoping we would.

It's going to be busy. I know that they already have the tree exhibit set up at Creative 360, and there will be a lot of stuff going on. We're hoping it's going to be kind of claustrophobic, for lack of better word.

JB: What does the show cost?

CMD: The entrance fee is set at no cost, although there's a suggested donation. No one is obligated, but it would be nice to support what we're doing and support the DStreet Entertainment Foundation's Bandwagon program. They refurbish used instruments and distribute them to kids who really want to play, who can't otherwise afford instruments. So that's a big part of the project now. It wasn't originally. Originally it was just people coming in and displaying their artwork. Ben has some relations with DStreet, and he thought they'd be a really good group to support. After checking them out, they seemed like the perfect fit for our event.

JB: Are there any artists or performances you're eager to see?

CMD: I'm eager to see all of them! I haven't gotten a chance to see much of our artists' work before, so I'm just excited overall. There'll be a lot of variety.

The Alt. Art Expo is on Saturday, April 10 from 10 a.m.  to 6 p.m. at Creative360 (1517 Bayliss Street, Midland, MI). The musical performances, short films, poetry readings and theater performances will start at 1 p.m. Get coffee from Starbucks any time. The show is free with a suggested donation; proceeds go to Creative360 and DStreet Entertainment's Bandwagon program. 

© Jeremy Benson, 2010