The MAC: A place for creatives

The act of creation comes with a caveat: It can get pretty expensive. For 32 years, the Manitou Art Center (MAC) in Manitou Springs has endeavored to make creating as a career more affordable by providing access to tools and studio and exhibition space at significantly reduced costs.

“It is incredibly expensive to work as a professional artist, to launch a business, to rent space for meeting and events,” says MAC Executive Director Natalie Johnson. “The art center asks, ‘How can we take care of the overhead so that you can thrive and do what you need to do?’”

The MAC has worked hard to procure a variety of unique, costly or just plain obscure equipment for members and guests. Makers can take advantage of the center’s darkroom, printing press, paper-making equipment, spinning wheels, 3D printers, laser cutter, design software and machining equipment, plus space to work and the opportunity to display their final products via gallery shows and seasonal events. Artists can choose between a Studio Artist Membership, which costs $120 a month and includes a designated space, or the Makerspace Membership, which costs $50 a month but does not offer a reserved space. Both memberships allow members 24/7 access to the facilities — yes, even in the age of COVID-19.

“Affordability is a big deal when you’re talking about artists,” says Johnson, noting that it would be extremely difficult for those just starting their artistic career to purchase a quality 3D printer or advanced design software. “Our prices are intentional so the folks that need it can access our space.”

The MAC doesn’t just serve its member artists. It provides numerous benefits to the community, as well. Pre-pandemic, Johnson says the MAC offered an average of 65 events each month, many of which were run by individuals in the community. Studio artists and community members have taught classes on everything from drawing and photography to weaving and metalwork — and quite a bit more.

The MAC also participates in First Friday Art Walk and offers a virtual version of the monthly show in lieu of the traditional in-person exhibitions. Other art shows abound year-round, including Wunderkind, a show devoted to the work of high school students, and monthly gallery shows featuring the works of MAC artists or guest exhibitors.

Johnson says there are exciting plans in the works to expand access to the center. The Manitou Springs branch of the Pikes Peak Library District is moving into the building and both organizations are working toward a collaboration that would allow library card holders to utilize the tools.

“We’ve been able to adapt and adjust and grow with the needs of the Pikes Peak region. I’m really proud of the Art Center for being able to do that for 32 years,” she says.

Looking to the future, Johnson sees an emerging mission to support the community as it rebounds from COVID-19. She envisions a hub that supports economic recovery efforts via workforce training, as well as grants to help people transition to new jobs or learn new skills. To accomplish this, Johnson hopes to curate a roster of talented professionals who can teach skills like computer-aided design and drafting, screen printing, web design — or anything else that will help job seekers increase their marketability to employers.

“If you have a legitimate skill and you’re willing to share that skill,” Johnson says, “we want you in 2021 at the Manitou Art Center.”