New initiative connects art and community along the lakeshore

Marjyjo Lemanski (left) and Karen Levine
Marjyjo Lemanski (left) and Karen Levine at the “Unmasked” exhibit
Photo: Scott Sullivan

By Kelsey Smith

Eager to share her passion for the arts with her local community, Maryjo Lemanski got together with her peers and formed the Saugatuck Douglas Fennville Arts Initiative (SDFAI) last August. Lemanski brought together two groups of people — an art huddle and the creative minds — and surveyed people in the Saugatuck, Douglas and Fennville communities to get their thoughts on the local art scene.

The art huddle is made up of the arts and cultural organizations in Saugatuck, Douglas and Fennville; and the creative minds is a group of community visionaries that know the lakeshore area well.

“We went to grocery stores and places we could find people,” Lemanski said. “We asked people what they thought of the arts and what they would like to see changed. A lot of the people we talked to said they felt the arts were elitist and that a lot of the events were expensive.

“They also said they were tired — they had seen the same types of works and events for quite a while. So, we’re looking to rejuvenate the work and experiences and make them affordable.”

The initiative’s mission is to expose, encourage and develop interactive arts in public venues by offering programs and experiences inclusive of wide-ranging audiences at no cost.

“The beauty of small communities is that you can partner together pretty easily,” Lemanski said.

The initiative kicked off its programming this year on June 6 with an exhibit at the Saugatuck-Douglas District Library called “Unmasked: Photographic Portraits After 2020.” This exhibit, running through Sept. 7, brought the lakeshore community together through photos.

“Unmasked” exhibit
“Unmasked” exhibit
“Unmasked” exhibit
Photos: SDFAI

Portraits and selfies were taken by lakeshore residents — with equipment as simple as a cell phone — and hung on the walls of the library. The photos offer a glimpse into the lives that make up the lakeshore communities.

“We had over 100 entries for the exhibit, it was pretty exciting,” Lemanski said. “All three communities were running around and taking pictures.”

From July 1–Oct. 10, “Art of the People: Anishinaabe Contemporary Artists” will be on display at the Saugatuck-Douglas History Center. As the initiative’s second event, this exhibit features seven artists from the Anishinaabe culture who live in the lakeshore region. The gallery will include sculpture, paintings, beadwork and mixed media.

“It’s just so rewarding to hear artists’ stories and their dedication to coming here and working with the communities here,” Lemanski said.

The initiative’s programming and events will continue throughout the summer; for more details and information, visit

Saugatuck Douglas Fennville Arts Initiative