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A weekly look at creativity, arts, and culture in southwest Michigan, hosted by Zinta Aistars.Fridays in Morning Edition at 7:50am and at 4:20pm during All Things Considered.

Art Beat: Overcoming Struggle Through Art

Zinta Aistars

In August 2021, a tiny shop opened its doors in downtown Otsego, Michigan. Opening the doors ofALICEis a little like falling into a rabbit hole – a technicolor journey into art in myriad forms.

Owners Heather Conroy and Molly Dunn have 20 years in age between them. Although sisters by blood, they more often see themselves as mother and daughter. They are bonded by a passion for art, their own and a love for the art of others. They now share that passion with their community and Southwest Michigan.

A conversation with Heather Conroy and Molly Dunn.

Credit Molly Dunn
Molly Dunn and Heather Conroy

“I have been a charge nurse and a medic for 15-plus years,” says Conroy. “I specialize in emergency medicine and psych patients. Both are very high intensity fields, which I love, but the Covid crises was bad, traumatic, I lost 30 patients and got sick and now have a heart condition from it. I needed an outlet to counteract that intensity. Art does that for me. I enjoy finding pieces that speak to me, remind me of family and friends or just pieces I think would bring joy to others.”

A long-time art collector and art hobbyist herself, Conroy’s interest in art took a more personal turn when her sister Molly moved in with her. A young, single mother of two, Dunn looked to her sister for shelter.

“We had a rather rough childhood,” Dunn says, describing a childhood home of poverty, no electricity, too often no food. “I’ve always been interested in art, and drawing was like a really, really good escape for me. It helps me feel better about all those problems I had in my life. Shortly after I had my children, I stopped doing my art for a while. I did not feel great about myself at all.”

Under her sister’s roof, Dunn rediscovered art. She found supplies of paint in Conroy’s home office. She told me to express myself and I painted and felt miraculously better about myself.”

The healing powers of artistic expression didn’t stop there. Dunn ordered more art supplies. Deliveries came to the door near daily, Conroy laughs, and soon the office was not enough space to encompass Dunn’s paintings. Finding a small business space at 118 Farmer Street in downtown Otsego, Conroy signed a lease and opened Alice Studio, alluding to Dunn’s love for the Lewis Caroll book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

“Now with the Covid crisis, everyone has taken to their basements, garages, extra rooms to heal and soothe themselves with art,” Conroy says. “With the opening of Alice, these people with their beautiful pieces are wanting the world to see their art, their calm, their happy place. To see what they created, accomplished during one of the most tragic times. I am more than happy to have a place to do this. I support my community when I buy local and refer other people to locals as well. This gallery is for me and for my community.”

Alicenow features not only Dunn’s paintings, but also watercolors and oil paintings by local artists, photography, jewelry, silk-screen t-shirts, glass art and pottery, and much more. (Disclosure: Art by Zinta Aistars and her late father, artist Viestart Aistars, is sold at Alice).  For more information, contact  269.350.6340.

Zinta Aistars is our resident book expert. She started interviewing authors and artists for our Arts & More program in 2011.
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