The Fenton ArtWalk, Art is Hot in Fenton

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Fenton, MI — July 13, 2019

Saturday was a hot day, with temperatures in the 90’s. The only thing hotter was the excitement in downtown Fenton for this year’s ArtWalk

Downtown Fenton

The City of Fenton put its upscale appearance on full display this past weekend. The newly designed streetscapes complete with beautiful flower displays, new bistros, and restaurants taking their place in the community. All while hosting the Fenton ArtWalk!

Photo Courtesy of Southern Lakes Parks and Recreation

“I think with the combination of the reinvention of the downtown area and the really good quality of activities has helped turn Fenton into a destination point. I think the location off the expressway and the growing number of the artists and the physical environment downtown really made for a good setting for the Fenton ArtWalk,” said Vince Paris, the executive director of Southern Lakes Parks and Recreation.

Fenton ArtWalk’s Popularity

The Fenton ArtWalk is widely regarded as a very positive and growing event by those within and outside of the Fenton community. The ArtWalk started as a small event for local artists to display their talents. The city wanted to see it turn into more of a fine arts festival. Southern Lakes Parks and Recreation has been marketing it to a broader audience than just our local area.

Vendor Displays at the Fenton ArtWalk / Lasco Press Photo

Last year there were 58 vendors, that number grew to 88 this year. Now in its 9th year, the event is held annually on the same date as the Bastille Day Run. The Bastille Day Run benefits the Genesee County Habitat for Humanity while commemorating the French Revolution.

Southern Lakes Parks and Recreation

“We think having the Artwalk after the run benefits both activities,” Paris said.
The Fenton ArtWalk was inspired by Christina Johnson, former president of the South Lakes Arts Council (now known as the Fenton Arts Council). “It all came together with kind of a think tank conversation between the arts council and the city of Fenton. Fenton Downtown Development Authority (DDA) is always looking for more activities to bring people into Fenton. We at Southern Lakes Parks and Recreation have been involved more in a support role up until three years ago when the city asked us to start managing it,” Paris said. The art walk is funded by the Fenton Downtown Development Authority.

Art in Different Forms

Say It With Dots: One of the unique art forms featured at the walk is greeting cards from a local business called Say It With Dots. Kim Verhelle and Melanie Hein make print braille greetings cards in order to be inclusive of visually impaired and blind individuals.

“So, we make cards with braille and also without braille. Melanie; my partner, asked me if I ever get cards in braille since I read braille. I told her I didn’t and I had to just depend on someone to read it for me. She said ‘well, let’s make our own.’ So, we started around September of 2017,” Verhelle said.

The cards are available at Fenton’s Open Book and The Leader Dog for The Blind Gift Shop in Rochester Hills. On the Say It With Dots Facebook page, people can view the cards and also send messages regarding them. Last year was the first year Say It With Dots was part of the ArtWalk.

“Everybody seems to love the cards. The ArtWalk is great. It’s a great day out for the community. Lots of people from other communities come. We are happy with it,” Verhelle said.

Junkyard Art: Gus Vanhecke displayed and sold paintings from his store Junkyard Art. He came up with the name of the business because he likes junkyards. Gus has been painting for about 50 years because he “just likes painting.” Normally he sells his paintings at car and art shows. Vanhecke has participated in the Fenton ArtWalk since its inception. He said both the way his art was received at the ArtWalk this year and the event itself were “very good.”

Gus Vanhecke and His Junkyard Art / Lasco Press Photo

Tom Tom’s Photo Booth: Tom and Jessica Wielichowski have been running the photo booth business for just over eight years. The couple decided Tom Tom sounded catchy and named the business after Tom. They offered free photos at the event to promote their business.

“We do it together, and we enjoy going to events together. We started with our very own wedding. Back then, the prices for this kind of service were really high. Being as crafty as he is, my husband just decided he would build one for about the same price as it would cost us to rent one. Soon after that, people started asking us if they could borrow it for different events, and we decided to market it. We’ve been doing it ever since,” said Jessica.

The service is popular for weddings, graduation parties, and other group events. Jessica said the booth was received very well at the ArtWalk. “We had a steady flow of people taking photos all day,” she said.

Restrumed Guitar String Jewelry: Kera Berutti, the owner of Restrumed Guitar String Jewelry, uses old guitar strings donated from local music stores and musicians. Then she turns the strings into bracelets, key chains, and earrings.

Restrumed Jewelry / Lasco Press Photo

“I use the guitar string ends for beads and braid a guitar pick on there, too,” Berutti said.
It was her third season doing craft shows and her first time at the Fenton ArtWalk. She has been making the guitar string jewelry for three years.

“I typically do music or hippie festivals around town. But, I also sell at a couple of stores like Downtown Michigan Uniques in Lapeer. They took an old guitar and turned it into a shelf for me. It looks so cool!” Berutti said.

Berutti is about to launch a website as well; Restrumed.com. She also sells through social media. Two ArtWalk visitors cried at her booth. “Sometimes it really strikes a personal chord. It’s not just about the band, often the person remembers a show they saw with their dad. Music is personal to people. One woman was asking about making something out of her late father’s old guitar strings. For another woman, a concert reminded her of a loved one who had passed on. “The art walk was so much fun for me. It was a beautiful, warm day with lots of music,” Berutti said.

Kid’s Art

A children’s art area was added to the festival last year with art activities for youngsters to take part in.

Lasco Press Photo

Street artists such as jugglers, magicians, balloon figure creators, face painters, and mimes have also been incorporated in the fun for kids. Other strolling entertainers included a stilt walker, individuals doing fire and bubble tricks.

Mime Eric Scott Baker Performing at the Fenton ArtWalk / Lasco Press Photo

There were approximately 20 entertainers under the food tents. Bites and Flights, at the Fenton Museum, by Sawyer’s Jewelers, and near Ciao Restaurant. Acts included The Boys and Girls Steel Drum Band, The Kids’ Theatre Company, Renaissance actors, The Riot Act Quartet, The JaZam! Rock Trio, Joyful Noise Studio, Vern and Tyree, Rob Norum, Mike Brown The Magician, The Fenton Lake Chorus, Jamison Jones, saxophonist Paul Shellar, and guitar vocalist Gary Niemenski were featured.

Music

A live concert by Denise Davis and the Motor City Sensations ended the night. Denise Davis, bandleader, and lead vocalist for the group said, “They wanted to be affiliated with Motown Detroit and have been performing together since 2009.”

Davis’ mom was a singer who inspired her to enter the profession. Her mom performed as a vocalist for a Motown and blues group called Danny Blue and the Bluebirds, which was centralized in the old El Tigre Lounge. “I didn’t know anybody in the music business. I just kind of started centering myself around other musical people that were local. I soul searched some musicians and we all got together,” Davis said.

Phil Thorpe is the musical director. He and Sean Friday play guitar. Gabe Gonzalez is the group’s drummer. Michael Dobbs tickles the keyboard, and Jerome Yancy plays bass. The group started in nightclubs, ventured out into the casino industry and has recently turned into a touring band. With dates in Yale, Owosso, Traverse City and other cities in the greater Detroit area.  To date, appearing in 339 different venues.

Denise Davis and the Motor City Sensations / Lasco Press Photo

A Varied Act

Denise Davis and the Motor City Sensations performed Motown, they did Gladys Knight, some Tina Turner along with ballads and some upbeat songs people were able to dance to. The group played “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye as a tribute to military veterans. Anyone that served our country was asked to come up to the stage area and the people in attendance were invited to come up and shake their hand and thank them personally for their service.

Many of the veterans were emotionally moved by the gesture. “It was a beautiful thing and a nice time of respect”, said Nancy Muffley, program administrator and planner for Southern Lakes Parks and Recreation, who booked the entertainment for the ArtWalk.

“My experience in Fenton was hospitable and enjoyable, and I think my band gave the crowd something to remember,” Davis said. Mary Kobet of Davison attended the ArtWalk for the first time. “I loved seeing people out and about on a summer afternoon. It seems like people were happy to have some music around them and see what people were doing creatively. I think that feeds our soul. It’s good for the local businesses. People enjoy sitting down having a sandwich or beverage. It makes you feel like this is summer!” That and the 90-degree temps.