Studio 23 began as a grassroots arts organization run completely by volunteers who were dedicated to bringing art to the Saginaw Bay area. In 1959, it established itself as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. Its first home was on the second floor of the Weiland Furniture Store, with the name Studio 23 originating from the store’s location on U.S. 23.
In 1962, to accommodate a growing organization, Studio 23 moved to the Little Red Schoolhouse on the corner of Knight Road and Center Avenue, where it paid a mere one dollar per year rent to Bay City Public Schools. Volunteers spent the first six months extensively cleaning, repairing, and painting the Studio’s new home. Once renovations were complete, Studio 23 hosted adult and children’s art classes and a rotation of six exhibits per year. Due to inadequate heating, the Studio was forced to close for three months of the year in winter.
Over the next twenty years, the Little Red Schoolhouse deteriorated beyond repair. In 1982, Studio 23 moved to Thomas Jefferson Elementary School and continued to pay a nominal amount to the school district for use of the facilities. The building was reclaimed by the public school system in 1986, leaving Studio 23 without a home. For the next three years, Studio 23 struggled to find a new location, in the meantime selling, storing, or giving away gallery furniture.
In 1989, Bay City manager David Barnes invited Studio 23 to use three rooms on the top floor of Bay City Hall, with a telephone line and membership list generously provided by the Bay Arts Council. Because of limited space and building restrictions, classes and special events could not be held. Despite these limitations, Studio 23 continued to provide arts to the region, with ten exhibits a year for the next seven years.
When Peg and Paul Rowley joined the board of directors, they brought with them a new vision for Studio 23. The Jennison Hardware building was being renovated into condos, and the first floor of the building became available in 1997. As investors in the Jennison project, the Rowleys came to then-board president Charlie Schwartz to help gain board approval for the move and the fundraising involved.
With the board voting in favor of the move, a small group toured the building with the Rowleys. When asked how much the Studio could afford to spend on a down payment, Charlie Schwartz negotiated the payment with the twenty dollars he had in his pocket. With the Rowleys’ acceptance, plans for renovation began. With a lofty fundraising goal of $500,000 and an endowment fund through the Bay Area Community Foundation, Studio 23 was able to open its doors quickly. This permanent home permitted classes and special events to resume, allowing Studio 23 to continue its mission of making the arts relevant and accessible to all.
Studio 23 was able to raise funds to renovate its gallery and classrooms again in 2019, adding a classroom to accommodate growing enrollments. During the renovation, the Studio took up temporary residence and offered classes from the back room of the Historical Museum of Bay County. Since reopening its doors, Studio 23 has expanded its programming from just seven programs to twenty-eight and growing, and has introduced and grown its Artist Collective to offer professional development, networking, and exhibition opportunities to local artists. In 2021, Studio 23 began an artist-in-residence program that offers funding and an exhibition at the Studio to the artists selected. Studio 23 also continues to bring art to the community through public art installations and community events.
Programs, exhibitions, and community events continue to be made possible through membership and donor support.