History of Crooked Tree Arts Center

Putting down roots

Crooked Tree Arts Center (CTAC), née Crooked Tree Arts Council, was founded in 1971 to sponsor and encourage activities in the arts for residents of Charlevoix and Emmet counties. The founding members of Crooked Tree were Sally Clark, Edith Gilbert, Grace Jessop, Judie Koza, eddi Offield, Jack Perry, and Carolyn Rader. Their plan for an arts-based community organization began in January 1971 during a meeting at the Petoskey Public Library for those interested in the arts. It was founding member Sally Clark who suggested the organization be named Crooked Tree. The phrase referred to a noted local landmark important to the indigenous peoples of Northern Michigan. The landmark was utilized as a gathering place for trading, and Crooked Tree Arts Center was to be a gathering place within the community for those interested in the arts. The founders hoped that Crooked Tree would become a local landmark for the arts in Northern Michigan.

Watering the sapling

Crooked Tree’s founders had three goals in mind when establishing the organization: provide high quality cultural experiences for the residents of Northern Michigan; encourage area artists and provide a means by which those artists could advance their professional careers; and form an umbrella organization that could provide cultural services for the entire two-county area, avoiding the unnecessary expenses inherent in a duplication of services by several small, independent organizations.

During the early years, without a permanent residence, CTAC operated out of members' homes, the Petoskey Public Library, and borrowed office space at North Central Michigan College. CTAC provided the community with opportunities to enjoy professional touring performances in ballet, drama, opera, and symphonic music whenever and wherever they were able. Art shows and exhibitions were presented regularly, and music scholarships were given to local students, enabling them to study at Bay View and Interlochen Arts Academy.

In 1978, CTAC purchased the old United Methodist Church in downtown Petoskey, finally providing the still fledgling organization with a home. Modest renovations, supported by local private funds, were made to the 1890 structure. In 1980 Michigan’s first lady, Helen Milliken, opened the new Arts Center, dedicating it to the people of Charlevoix and Emmet counties. Since the late 1970s, many small upgrades have taken place, but the look of the Arts Center today is the result of a major, multi-million dollar renovation in 2003.

The ‘Tree’ today

For over five decades, Crooked Tree Arts Center has developed excellent visual and performing arts programs, community outreach, and opportunities for artists and art lovers alike. Managed by a professional staff with guidance from the board of directors and the helping hands of numerous volunteers, the organization is recognized as one of the community’s more important assets.

In 2015, Crooked Tree Arts Center merged with ArtCenter Traverse City, thus establishing a second location – Crooked Tree Arts Center-Traverse City. With its two locations, Crooked Tree is now able to serve not only residents in Charlevoix and Emmet counties but also Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, and Leelanau counties. With locations in both the historic Gaslight District of downtown Petoskey and the Central Neighborhood District of downtown Traverse City, Crooked Tree Arts Center has set roots in two cultural and creative communities, providing artistically rich programming for all interested in the arts.

Since its inception in 1971, Crooked Tree has thrived. Membership has grown to over 3,000, with members living throughout Michigan and the country. Thanks to the support of the Northern Michigan community, Crooked Tree Arts Center is able to serve over 250,000 annually, with its branches reaching farther each year to spread its mission of creating ways for people to connect, learn, and grow through the arts.