HONORING ANN MOORE and Virginia (Dolly) Woodard as founders of the Shiawassee Arts Center.

(Courtesy Photo)

submitted by Carrie Rathbun Hawks and Piper Brewer

    Ann Moore and Virginia (Dolly) Woodard might not have known it at the time, but they were pioneers in the arts scene of Shiawassee County.

   In February 1972, then Owosso Mayor Dr. Leon Montague asked Moore and Woodard to explore the possibility of bringing Art Train to Owosso. Art Train, which was sponsored by the Michigan Council for the Arts, was a five-car touring art exhibit that traveled to Michigan communities with viable arts organizations.

   Moore and Woodard co-founded the Shiawassee Arts Council two months later after a presentation to the Owosso City Council. Nearly 50 years later, the council has grown significantly into what is now the Shiawassee Arts Center. SAC has gone from being an all-volunteer organization in its humble beginnings to having a staff of five full- and part-time employees, and a very energetic mascot, Jax (Piper Brewer’s canine companion).

   The duo served as co-chairs of the council because they’d had an interest in Project Outreach, which for three years brought works of art to Owosso through the Detroit Institute of Art. The artwork was displayed to the public at the former Owosso-Corunna Chamber of Commerce building on Water Street, in front of the newly renovated armory. Moore’s husband, Dr. Phillip Moore, would also hang consigned pieces from DIA in his medical office. Woodard and her husband Joseph also proudly displayed DIA pieces. Art Train was Woodard and Moore’s first project in July 1972.

   “There’s no doubt we are where we are today because of Dolly and Ann,” said SAC Executive Director Piper Brewer. “They had a vision, and brought together others who shared that vision. Over the years, both of them continued to support the arts council in so many tangible and intangible ways. We’re forever grateful for them.”

   They continued as co-presidents of SAC until 1974. The annual high school scholarship competition started during their tenure. SAC’s first home was at the Curwood Castle, where it stayed until 1989 when it moved into its current location just to the south. The center occupied half of what was once a home and private apartments. Eventually the owner sold the property to the city of Owosso. SAC gradually took over the rest of the house, making improvements along the way. The city leased it to SAC in 2005 for 99 years.

   The council was originally set up under the Michigan Council for the Arts (now the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs). Its goal was to “assist the community in developing and expanding art programs,” according to an article in the April 6 Argus Press of that year. The group planned to “provide a forum for an exchange of ideas and develop community arts through unified efforts.” Its vision included paintings, dance, theater, writing and music. Because of its partnership with the MCA, artists, poets, musicians and actors were invited into the community for two-week periods to perform and work with groups, schools and individuals. Consultant services were available to “assist and advise.”

   Woodard passed away in 1987. Moore passed more recently in 2020.

   Moore also helped start the Meals on Wheels program through the Memorial Hospital Auxiliary many years ago. She would take her children along when delivering meals. Her grandson, Scott, still delivers meals today in Ypsilanti and is on the board for that group.

   Her daughter, Katherine Godbold, recalls her mother’s other involvements as well, including serving for many years on the early board for the Shiawassee Community Foundation. She was president as well. The Moore Family has a gallery named after it inside SAC.

   “My mother was always very involved in the community, which is something she tried to pass on to her descendants. Fifty years ago, I was 17 and my youngest brother was 11, so our memories may not have the details an older child might have. My parents were always interested in the arts, as demonstrated by the activities they encouraged among their children – piano lessons, dance lessons, painting, drama,” recalls Godbold, who is secretary of SAC’s Board of Directors. “My siblings and I are art appreciators and involved in our communities now mostly because of our mom, but also our father.”

   Woodard’s daughter, Bunny, served with her mother on the Shiawassee Arts Center Board when it was established and for several years after.

   “Dolly was my mentor,” shared Brewer. I helped my mother, Margery Brewer, who was membership co-chair during Art Train’s 1972 visit, but it wasn’t until Dolly asked me to serve as publicity co-chair for the Michigan Opera Theatre’s 1976 production of ‘The Barber of Seville’ that I really became involved with SAC. In 1984, I was asked to be a board member and the rest is history. Dolly was a very special friend.”

   The following information is from a file written by Dolly Woodard about SAC from February of 1972 to September of 1975. Please note, women were most often referred to as Mrs. (husband’s first name) last name.

• In February, 1972, Mayor of Owosso, Dr. Leon Montague asked Moore and Woodard to explore the possibility of bringing Art Train to Owosso. Art Train, which was sponsored by the Michigan Council for the Arts (MCA), was a five-car touring art exhibit that traveled to Michigan communities with viable arts organizations.

• The first steps taken to form an Owosso area community arts council were outlined to Owosso City Council by Moore and Woodard in March of 1972.

• In April of 1972 when it was officially incorporated as a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization with assistance by Ron Seelhoff and Clark Shanahan. Mayor, Dr. Montague appointed Moore and Woodard Chairs of the newly formed Shiawassee Arts Council.

• The Owosso City Council officially backed and endorsed the Shiawassee Arts Council and presented the nonprofit with keys to Curwood Castle making it the official headquarters of the new organization.

• The July, 1972 Art Train visit to Owosso was organized by the Shiawassee Arts Council with support from MCA. Located off North Chipman Street, Artrain was open free to the public for seven consecutive days offering original paintings and sculpture from the Detroit Institute of Arts. The last car, the caboose, had been made into a studio workshop where local artists created art of all media. State Representative R.D. Trezise is quoted as saying, “Perhaps one of the best benefits of Art Train was the formation of the Shiawassee Arts Council.” Art Train was a tremendous success due to hundreds of volunteer workers and over 6,000 visitors. Art Train for Owosso, was the catalyst for a renewed and broader interest in art, as it was intended to be. The enthusiastic response of the whole area encouraged the Shiawassee Arts Council to immediately program stimulating art events and activities along with long-range plans for future cultural development

• In 1973, the Shiawassee Arts Council organized and instructed, with guidance by Mrs. Richard (Kitty) Campbell, in conducting tours of Curwood Castle, which was open to the public on regular weekend hours and when the Shiawassee Arts Council had exhibitions and special events.

• By 1974 the Owosso City Council had endorsed the Shiawassee Arts Council’s plan to raise funds to further restore Curwood Castle. The Shiawassee Arts Council’s vision of making the area around the castle into a park began with the removal of an apartment building between the castle and Comstock Cabin, along with a house immediately south of the cabin. Discussion also included a footbridge across the Shiawassee River and a larger parking facility within the “cultural center.” These projects were formally introduced and adopted by the then Bicentennial Committee as official projects of the committee. Jerry LeFevre became chairman of the projects and the Bicentennial Committee, Shiawassee Historical Society and the Shiawassee River Association joined hands with the Shiawassee Arts Council to promote the plan.

• In 1975, a gift of $40,000 was received from the Alvin M. Bentley, Arvella Bentley and Irma Bentley Foundations for the removal of the apartment building and for the development of the area into a park.

• One of the major fundraising events, chaired by Mrs. Robert (Hilde) Feetham in 1975, included bringing the Michigan Opera Theatre in Residence to Owosso. Workshops were provided for music students throughout the schools in Shiawassee County and a special performance of “The Barber of Seville,” open to the public, was presented in the Owosso Junior High Cournyer Auditorium (now the Owosso Middle School).

   During all these years and for many years after, Ann and Dolly continued to be major forces behind the growth and influence of the Shiawassee Arts Council.

Women Founders of Shiawassee Arts Center Honored During Women’s History Month was last modified: March 23rd, 2021 by Karen Elford