Art is a family affair for Steve Martin

Editor’s note: The following profile of Steve Martin is the first is a series of features on area residents who have played a part in establishing the Bonifas Fine Arts Center and who have been involved in developing and conducting the programs the center has offered throughout the years.

ESCANABA – Steve Martin is a member of the Bonifas Arts Center. Why?

Coming from a family that produces artists helps. His wife, Theresa, and daughters Maggie and Anna are all artists, he says, as are his mother-in-law, mother, and Grandpa Martin who won national awards for his woodcarving after retiring from work as a plasterer.

“I’m not a great creator,” Martin says. “I’m an appreciator.”

Martin has found himself working with the Bonifas Arts Center over the past four years to implement programming for the Escanaba Upper Elementary (EUE) School where he is principal.

“All fourth, fifth, and sixth grade students have art once a week,” he said. “Ms. Aho teaches the fourth graders, and Mr. Dykema has the fifth and sixth graders.”

After school activities like the Photography Club, the Arts Center’s On Stage program underwritten by Plum Creek and the Dagenais Foundation, and the Art Scene program sponsored by the EUE Parent Teacher Organization where students produce a piece of public art, add about another hundred students in the arts, he said.

“And the fourth grade trip this year that added to our science content, enabling us to hit more benchmarks without spending more money.”

Martin is talking now about the Fourth Grade Afield sessions sponsored by the Arts Center and led by Arts Center instructor and retired Park Ranger Gregg Bruff. All 280 Escanaba fourth graders had the opportunity to spend a school day at Portage Point, where journaling with art and words reinforced scientific learning.

“It’s instructional and personal at the same time like being in their own backyards,” Martin said. “How many of those kids had gone swimming at Portage Point? How many live right around there?”

Martin appreciates the multi-disciplinary approach that journaling about science brings students, as well.

“The goal of education today is not just content, but the cognitive ability and critical thinking that lead students to be creative and push through adversity,” Martin says. “The Arts are one way to achieve those ends, like sports and drama, and produce creative thinkers who can collaborate with a team.”

“Content learning leads to knowledge, but to be a real success, you need well-roundedness. Arts give us a method or a mode, to teach those skills. Or maybe not to teach them, so much as to allow the children to practice them.”

“This is definitely part of our mission at the Arts Center,” said Pasqua Warstler, Gallery and Education Director for the Center. “This combination of learning, creating, and even saving our schools a bit of money and energy while reinforcing the school curriculum is what we’re all about.”

At home, Martin says, his girls do a lot of creating.

“We don’t save a lot of paper in our house, because my girls use it all up,” he said. “Someone always seems to be coloring, doing paper crafts the girls love it. They’re dancers, too.”

“Of course we’ve spent time at the Center,” Martin says. “We go to the Gingerbread House Workshop every year. The Northern Exposure exhibit is one we always try to attend, and you know everyone loves the Waterfront Art Festival. My mom has sold her fabric pieces there for years.”

As an appreciator of art, and as an educator, Martin feels it’s important to be hand-in-hand with the Arts.

“We at EUE appreciate the opportunity to partner with the Bonifas,” Martin said. “It provides a great educational opportunity, combining art with other disciplines to improve learning, creativity, and interest.”

Warstler invited community members to join the Center and support further educational Arts opportunities. Individuals may call during open hours of 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. They can also join online (as Martin does) by visiting, or mail $35 for an individual membership or $50 for a family membership to 700 1st Avenue South, Escanaba, MI 49829.