Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center Gets Creative During COVID-19

The Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center has had to alter its programs in response to COVID-19. Photo by Balthazar Korab

Annie VanGelderen discovered the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center 20 years ago when she purchased a piece of art glass at its Holiday Shop.

“They threw a program book in the bag. My husband and I went out to dinner afterward,” she recalls. “I grabbed the booklet and was looking through it (and thought) ‘I should take a class …’”

With her spouse’s encouragement, VanGelderen signed up.

“I started taking drawing and painting and found love in printmaking, which was like a panacea for me,” she recalls. “Eventually, I started teaching.”

Like thousands of people through the decades, VanGelderen found inspiration, education and community through this unique arts organization. She’s been involved ever since, serving as president and CEO for the last 10 years.

As the nonprofit gears up for its fall season, VanGelderen’s career comes full circle with the unveiling of a newly remodeled printmaking studio this September, complete with state-of-the-art presses, a new spray booth and more.

Yet due to the COVID-19 crisis, the BBAC has had to dramatically alter its operations, moving exhibits and children’s classes online, reducing capacity for adult offerings and ramping up sanitation at its 25,000-square-foot facility on Cranbrook Road just north of 14 Mile.

Photo courtesy of the BBAC

Still, the BBAC remains true to its vision of providing “art for all.” Its leaders are being hailed for their innovative approach in these unprecedented times.

VanGelderen maintains art is needed now more than ever.

“During this time, it’s especially important to tap into that creative side. Making or viewing art is a great time for quiet exploration and reflection.”


The BBAC was founded in 1957 with the mission “to connect people of all ages and abilities with visual arts education, exhibition, and other creative experiences.”

The organization is known for groundbreaking exhibits, kids’ summer camps and its annual Michigan Fine Arts Competition that has drawn talent from around the state for 39 years. More than 2,000 people enroll in its wide variety of classes each year.

“Most of our instructors either teach at the university level or are artists themselves. Typically, our class curriculum is duplicated at the college level,” VanGelderen says. “Our students are able to take class with a high-level of instructor with fewer students at a lower cost. Every dollar paid in tuition — we match that dollar to have that class run.”

Because of the pandemic, the BBAC’s popular kids’ summer camps were moved online and proved to be successful, leading the organization to hold all teen and youth classes virtually through the fall.

“Our hope was to conduct them on-site, but when the majority of local schools decided to go virtual, we decided to do the same to limit exposure,” VanGelderen says. “Our first foray into virtual camps, we had a very good response rate. Parents were happy; kids were happy. That’s why we feel very confident moving our fall classes virtual.”

Families will find extensive offerings like cartoon and comic art, drawing, painting, fashion illustration, jewelry design and more. When it comes to ceramics, families will drop off pieces to be fired in the kiln and pick them back up again.

“We hope to stick as close to our program book as possible,” VanGelderen says. “Our first day for member registration, surprisingly our phones were ringing off the hook.”


The BBAC has been offering Children’s Art Activity Kids for do-at-home projects. Photo courtesy of the BBAC

Another unique way the BBAC has pivoted to serve the community during the pandemic is by offering Children’s Art Activity Kits, which contain materials and instructions for up to 10 projects with themes like “Journey to the Beach.” The kits ($15) are mailed directly to families, and youth are invited to submit photos of their projects for posting online. The projects have been embraced by families forced to home-school because of COVID-19.

“We’ve been overwhelmed with parents and grandparents wanting the art kits,” VanGelderen says. “We want to make sure all children are able to experience some type of art and have a creative outlet. We aren’t making any money on these kits, but I think they are very much welcome.”

Its juried Michigan Fine Arts Competition was moved online due to the size of the exhibit and the number of artists participating.

“Because it is such a very large show with so many different artists, we couldn’t navigate how we could have drop-offs from all different areas and still have a safe environment,” VanGelderen says.

On Sept. 11, four new exhibits will open to the public in person at the BBAC. To ensure safety, attendance will be limited to 10 people per gallery space, and opening parties will not be held. Hand-sanitizing stations have been installed throughout the building, and masks are required at all times.

VanGelderen is particularly enthusiastic about The Photographs of Sue Marx.

“It is a compilation of a number of her images, mostly of people who defined Detroit in the 1960s. It’s going to be an incredible exhibit two years in the making,” VanGelderen says. “We’re really excited about hanging her work here. She is a Detroit icon. Viewers will be able to walk through the exhibit and see through her lens what she captured during the ’60s and ’70s, which is really important, especially now.”

VanGelderen says the BBAC will survive and thrive in spite of COVID-19, thanks to its staff and supporters, along with help from Oakland County, which has provided free personal protective equipment and grants to businesses and nonprofits alike. She says she is thrilled the county values the BBAC’s contributions.

“The arts are so very important to creating a well-rounded community, whether you’re coming to view art or partaking in classes or workshops,” she says. “It’s a great opportunity to tap into your creative side, and it’s more needed than ever.”

Iconic filmmaker Sue Marx will share her photos of people who defined Detroit dating to the 1960s in an exhibit Sept. 11-Oct. 8. Photo by Sue Marx

BBAC Fall Exhibits | Sept. 11-Oct. 8

The Photographs of Sue Marx
An iconic filmmaker known for her long-running prime-time series, Profiles in Black, for Channel 4, Marx shares photos of people who defined Detroit dating to the 1960s.

Birmingham Society of Women Painters: Flying Colors
A mixed media show featuring up to 40 local artists.

Madelaine Corbin: MASS + MEASURE
The award-winning artist explores the space between home and land, human and non-human, wild and managed landscapes and connections between people.

Students of Timothy Widener
Pieces by those influenced by Widener, a working artist and teacher for more than 25 years.

Fall exhibits are open to the public with COVID-19 safety measures in place. 

Fall Classes | Sept. 10-Dec. 9
Registration for fall adult in-person classes and children’s virtual classes begins for the general public on Aug. 24, online, by phone and in person. Click here for the fall program book. Call (248) 644-0866.

Children’s Art Activity Kits
Kits include materials and instructions for several art projects, ages 5 and up. To request an activity kit ($15), call (248) 644-0866, ext. 0, and leave a message.

BBAC Gallery Shop
Through summer, the Gallery Shop is open by appointment only Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Starting Sept. 10, it will be open during the BBAC’s regular hours, with masks and social distancing required.

The BBAC is located at 1516 S. Cranbrook Road just north of 14 Mile Road. Email or visit for more information.