Despite fire, youth arts haven moves forward, by 8-18 Media

Normally, a fire destroys everything in its path. But when a fire swept through a popular youth arts hangout in Marquette this winter, it only strengthened the resolve and passion of the patrons to keep the spirit of the place alive.
231 House of Muses, a music venue, art gallery and theater showcased local bands and artists and prided itself on having a youth-friendly environment. On January 6, its building at 231 West Washington Street was damaged severely by a fire that was found to be accidental.
House of Muses volunteer Fiona Smith, eighteen, of Marquette remains optimistic despite the fire.
“You never know what’s going to happen, but I have a very positive attitude about it, and I think that it has a very positive future,” said Smith, who is part of a group heading up the rebuilding effort.
The group is looking at the possibility of moving into the old Upper Peninsula Motors building, according to House of Muses director Ryan Dawson. The space, in the 300 block of West Washington Street, is above Love Notes and Fagin’s Antiques. At 8,000 square feet, it is four times the size of the old gallery.
“The space we’re looking at is probably going to need $100,000 worth of work,” Dawson said. “The important thing right now is raising funds.”
Many fundraisers have been organized to get House of Muses back on its feet. So far events have included a benefit concert at North Star Academy, donation jars placed in local businesses, and a PayPal account for online donations. On March 30, a formal dinner and silent art auction fundraiser will be held at the Landmark Inn in Marquette. Tickets are $50 per person. During the event, a new business plan and board of directors will be presented along with a model of the proposed new space.
One of the major steps toward economic stability for House of Muses is nonprofit status, which the group expects to acquire soon. Nonprofit status will provide access to sources of funding, that previously were unavailable.
“We can start getting grants, so we’ll have more money to do more things,” Smith said. “With that, it will grow and expand into bigger things. Who knows, maybe something I can’t even imagine at this point.”
House of Muses takes its name from the nine goddesses in Greek mythology who preside over song, poetry, and the arts and sciences. It was founded about five years ago as an art gallery by Northern Michigan University students. Dawson, thirty-three, took over as director eighteen months ago. A no-alcohol/no-smoking policy is enforced to make the venue appropriate for all ages.
A year ago, House of Muses also started a publication called SIRR as a promotional tool for the gallery. It has evolved into a literary magazine connecting U.P. artists and providing a place for their work to be published.
The community is becoming more aware of what House of Muses provided for young people.
“In a town like ours, there isn’t a good music and art venue for people who are younger, and there isn’t a place where youth who are under twenty-one can go to small concerts,” Smith said. “House of Muses offers that. I think they’re realizing the importance of that.”
Dawson said House of Muses goes beyond providing a concert venue for teens; it helps them reach a part of themselves they may not otherwise find.
“Through music and art, we learn to deal with whole different sides of our life that we don’t necessarily always face in school or at our jobs,” Dawson said. “You might get in touch with some emotional aspect by looking at a painting that you weren’t even aware of in yourself. Or when you hear somebody’s music. I think it’s important for people to be in touch with that, and I think that’s the purpose that art serves.”
On a Friday night last December, teens and college students mingled between sets as a local band, Buttermilk Pancakes, prepared to take the stage. A smattering of adults and middle schoolers also turned out to listen to the band, which is made up of three Marquette area teenagers. The atmosphere was energetic yet relaxed.
“Sometimes the energy is just right in the space,” Dawson said. “It’s that vibe that really keeps the whole place going. It’s the bands feeling good about what they’re doing on stage. It’s the friends in the audience participating. It’s a guy up in the sound booth turning all the knobs, making it sound just right. When all the gears are turning right and everything is clicking, it’s really amazing.”
Mark Johnson, fifteen, of Marquette started going to House of Muses a year before the fire. Johnson and his friends were there at least a couple times a month, either to perform or listen to live music. He said it gave people a place to be themselves.
“If you’re a struggling artist or musician, or if you want to share poetry or any sort of art or self-expression, you can just come down here and talk to the people,” Johnson said in an interview prior to the fire. “It’s just a nice place to meet people.”
Benjamin Van Howe, fifteen, a musician from Marquette recalled one of his favorite times at House of Muses.
“The first time I played a show here was probably the best experience because a lot of people were there to see us and they complimented us,” Van Howe said. “And the bands that played with us were really good and fun to dance to.”
Since the fire, Dawson said, the patrons’ sentiments have been strengthened.
“I think everyone maybe started to take it for granted once it became a routine thing,” he said. “Once it’s gone, you realize what it really is.”
With the Muses continuing to inspire, the spirit of the place remains as alive as ever.
“There’s been a lot of great community support,” Dawson said. “Everybody has just been really inspired and motivated. We’re working really hard to go forward.”
—8-18 Media

Editor’s Note: This story was written by Chelsea Parrish, fifteen, and Claire Smith, seventeen, with contributions from Mady Farley, eleven; Hanna Schafer-Nelson, fourteen, and Lane Whitley, twelve.

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