Branching Out: Tree Love Collective sprouts change after three-year growth
After three years of dominating the Mount Pleasant art scene, Tree Love Collective extends its roots to new locations
Walking through a black door with the words “The Avenue Cafe” painted in grey, a barefoot man in parachute pants plays an electric violin.
The stage is empty except for the man, but the performance is surrounded with live dancers, painters and sculptures provided by students and artists in the Tree Love Art Collective.
The collective is a production company that offers freelance event services such as talent buying, art gallery management and community workshops.
The group has hosted about 25 events in Michigan since the start of 2015, about 15 of which were in Mount Pleasant. With the growing popularity of the events, the collective has intentions to branch out beyond Mount Pleasant.
A demand for more diversity
Three years ago Tree Love founder and former Central Michigan University student, Gordie Morton, noticed a lack in diversity of the night-life in town for students. There was a lot of partying, but not a place that adhered to artists who wanted to comfortably express themselves.
“We’re trying to be a community of people now,” said Hannah Rose, art director of Tree Love. “People come to Tree Love shows because of the community, not just because of who’s playing music.”
Morton created a Facebook group to encourage local artists to create collectively and inspire an environment for live-art performances. When the interest in the group grew, Morton organized events for the artists to congregate.
“We didn’t think it would really grow into something so big," Morton said. "It was just something for us to do that was productive, besides going out and partying. At the same time, we’re all artists learning how to make a living off of being an artist. We really didn’t know what to expect. It was really awesome to see all of the support that we got.”
After brief stints at Rubble's Bar and the Majestic Theatre in Detroit, Tree Love Collective began a series of shows called "Tree Love Tuesdays". The event was hosted by the Bombay Grill from March to December 2014.
Every Tuesday night, the grill turned into an artist nightclub, typically consisting of three performance acts, either being bands or DJs, vendors selling their work and live artists — among them were painters, body painters and sculptures.
The gatherings averaged around 100 people.
“People were searching for a place they could be accepted and supported," Morton said. "At Tree Love Tuesdays, I would get so many people coming up to me — some of them in tears, some of them extremely happy — thanking me just for creating this environment for people to hang out in.”
Stephanie Master, a Glendale, Arizona senior, was a visual artist and vendor at Tree Love Tuesdays. Master's practiced and performed flow arts, an intersection of a variety of movement-based disciplines including dance, juggling, fire-spinning and object manipulation.
The collective also inspired her to design and create her own set of clothes for performances. The apparel merchandising and design major now has a business titled Wonderland Crossing.
“The vending process at Tree Love has not only allowed me to get out there as a designer, but it’s taught me to make my own opportunities," Master said.
After a year, Tree Love Tuesday became too demanding for the collective and was distilled into monthly shows.
Tree Love Tuesday was a crucial step in getting the collective to where it is today, Rose said.
“I feel like if we didn’t have Tree Love Tuesdays, we wouldn’t have as strong of a following. We wouldn’t be doing all the things we are doing," she said.
Spreading a creative message
Tree Love hosted several local events after Tree Love Tuesday ended, including concerts at Wayside Central and Hunter's Ale House, which Morton said each event averaged about 200 people.
Through hosting events and producing live performances the collective began founding strong friendships with people from different areas in the state. They began branching their influence to surrounding cities.
Tree Love assisted in the organization of several music festivals, including the UpNorth Music & Arts Festival in Copemish. Rose said she was inspired to help Tree Love bloom its own music festival.
Tree Love hosted the Branch Out Campout Festival in June at Elderberry Farms in Bangor, Michigan. The two-day long festival assembled 25 music acts to perform on two stages.
Branch Out Campout drew 475 people, but Morton said could have brought in upwards of 800 people had it not been for a court case prohibiting more than 500 on the land.
“We’ll look back on our lives in 20 years and say, ‘I threw a music festival when I was 21.’ That’s kind of a big deal,” Rose said. “I think the initial plan for Tree Love was to get an art collective growing so we could promote each other. Tree Love is kind of a communication line for a lot of people to meet other artists or other festival throwers.”
One performer at Branch Out Campout was the violinist, Dixon, of Dixon's Violin.
Tree Love Collective promoted post-classical violinist Dixon at the Avenue Café in Lansing on Sept. 8. This was just one of the Mount Pleasant-based collective’s freelance event services.
Dixon’s story encompasses many of Tree Love’s performers — a desire to use his art to create a deeper emotional meaning.
He had a career in computer science and a patent in virtual reality. He said that while he was "blessed" to have a career in corporate technology, Dixon said he realized there was an imbalance of logic and feeling in him.
“I was only logical. I was good at my brain, but (I didn't have) my heart and soul,” Dixon said. “I started to really discover myself and tap into my feelings. I was able to learn about myself and discover my feelings in my 30s. Now I improvise all the time, it's practice and trusting and feeling yourself. With all good things comes practice. I’m no longer terrified of my feelings.”
He now performs 75 shows a year, including festivals such as Burning Man and Electric Forest.
Bryan Garcia credits Tree Love for helping him rediscover himself after a trauma in Kalamazoo.
“As an artist performing live, you’re kind of a raw nerve, you’re displaying yourself and soul naked to everyone," Garcia said. "That is actually where the therapy came into play and helped me open myself up to people again. I could use that energy to recover, but also to spread it so others can too.”
Garcia said the collective invited him because he was a talented artist based on his portfolio. He was asked three months ago what Tree Love meant to him, and still has trouble describing the impact the collective has had on his life.
“It’s been a miracle, essentially it has been a second chance at life for me as an artist,” he said. “When I was in Kalamazoo I was falling away from who I really was.”
Working towards the future
The Tree Love family may grow as far as metro-Detroit or Grand Rapids with Rose’s May 2017 graduation. She and Morton plan on moving to either location, depending on where Rose interns for her major in recreational therapy.
As for the Mount Pleasant art scene, Morton said he has heard concerns that it may die down following their move. Tree Love may host fewer events in the upcoming year, Morton said, unless he can find someone willing to step up and share the workload.
Rose wants to create more workshops and art galleries. Another Branch Out Campout is in the works for 2017, but at a location that allows more attendees.
Morton plans on continuing to use his graphic design skills to makes shirts and posters for events. He said he's happy the collective has allowed him to make an impact on so many people.
“I was missing part of me that gives back," Morton said. "I wanted to do something with my career that would help others. To see that what we’re doing with Tree Love Collective is positively impacting the lives of so many people around here really make me fulfilled with what I’m doing.”
No matter what the future holds, Morton said Tree Love will always try to extend their influence to Mount Pleasant because of the collectives strong ties to the students who want more of an artistic cultural presence in town.
“The most important part is that we are building this community for all these people to participate in," Morton said. "We’re building an inspirational community where people are encouraged to learn from one another and help each other out. That’s the reason why we do it – to bring some life and culture to our community.”
Tree Love Collective will present “Terry XL (Big Sherb and the Paddlebots)" at 9:30 p.m. September 30 at Centennial Hall, 306 W. Michigan St. The event also includes DJake and Savage. The show is 18+ and tickets are available for $7.