The artists behind The Artist Lounge
, which opens in downtown Pontiac July 13, are designing a business that will be a collage of creativity and fun, social entrepreneurship, city pride, local history and cool architecture.
Wendelin Wilson, a fine arts grad from the Parsons School of Design, an instructor at the Center for Creative Studies and a teacher of the year from Chippewa Valley High School in Clinton Township, and Wendy Fournier, a fine arts grad from Wayne State University, a professional artist whose works are sold in galleries and a teacher who uses art to enhance performance and skills of business people and special needs children, want to promote art to the masses.
Their Artist Lounge at 31 N. Saginaw Road will host classes, parties and be a unique, special event space. It will also give the pair an opportunity to contribute to an economic turnaround for Pontiac -- to be part of a movement of dozens of entrepreneurs, developers, nonprofits and government officials working to bring back the city that's now run by a state appointed emergency financial manager.
"We're all about one vision and the vision truly is about building Pontiac back up," says Fournier, who grew up near Pontiac. "We're not in it for ourselves. It's about community, truly."
The lounge is opening inside a six-story building on Saginaw Street that was once used, among other things, for coal storage and delivery. It comes with an architectural legacy of raw brick and weathered wood that would cost a pretty penny to re-create today.
The space was renovated and is situated among several other new and planned businesses that could transform the building into a destination where visitors can make several stops. Plans with developer IHill, which has office space in the renovated building, call for a wine bar, bakery and work space. IHill, a temporary name, also provides business services such as accounting to the start-ups in the building and will help plan package deals for parties and events that tie in all the businesses in the building. The project joins other new and relocated businesses and a new downtown loft complex that includes a gym and fresh food market, something that's been absent from downtown Pontiac.
As for The Artist Lounge, "the idea has two legs, really. One is to basically communicate and teach art to all walks of life, children and adults…drawing, painting, whatever need comes out," says Wilson. "The second leg is to be a place for a chic night on the town where you can have a night out at painting classes, pair it with a winery, a great old historic environment…a new nightlife.
"What we want to do with The Artist Lounge is bring a huge level of fun there... make it safe and show people how to use that creative side of the brain," says Wilson. "Our focus is the right side of the brain, that creative side. It makes you a happier individual, more successful in business. You don't even realize what's happening. We have so many painters who keep coming back for this feeling, for this accomplishment. It really is such an exciting process to be a part of."
Wilson and Fournier also work with a mobile art studio called Right Brain Projects
, and The Artist Lounge gives them a permanent spot to carry out the mission to "help people engage in creative experiences to activate the whole mind which will increase self-confidence, improve critical thinking, and tap into hidden potential to perform better at work and be more content at home."
It's a lot -- running a business, tying in charity by hosting low rates and family days that help make up for cuts to arts in the school and working to attract people to a city that needs an image makeover, but Wilson and Fournier are excited to be a part of it.
"We feel like Pontiac found us," Fournier says. "We would be in meetings where people spoke of their visions and we realized it was our vision. Once we walked down the street, we saw our lives are about so much more than commercial success."
"There's a momentum here," Wilson says. "And we're excited to be a part of it."
Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Wendy Fournier and Wendelin Wilson, founders of The Artist Lounge