Marching to a Beatnik Beat

Two Saginaw men, influenced by previous generations, open an arts collective to showcase art and music.


It was at the young age of 13 that Benjamin Champagne became enamored with novelist and poet Jack Kerouac, who became a symbol of the beatnik generation. Inspiration from this symbol nudged Champagne to follow a path for becoming a musician, artist, and writer.

Five years ago, Champagne found a kindred spirit in Curtis Dalton, a band promoter. After kicking around the idea of opening a gallery that would be a home for all genres of artists and musicians, the two took the leap last year, opening the non-profit Counter Culture Arts Collective on Hamilton Street in Saginaw’s Old Town.

“We are totally fired up by the beatnik culture” Champagne describes. “We are both huge fans of Jack Kerouac, and the name [of the collective] is derived from that. Of the venue itself, Champagne explains, “It was born of need. Saginaw doesn’t have an all-ages music venue.”

Counter Culture has been a popular spot with the public since it opened in January of last year, and Champagne and Dalton purchased their own building on Gratiot Avenue in Saginaw just 10 months later in October. In the first year, the duo hosted nine gallery showings and numerous concerts.

Unlike the generation that has influenced them, Champagne and Dalton are drug- and alcohol-free, and so is Counter Culture. “That was the bond that strengthened our friendship,” Champagne says. “We had the same vision. We feel the arts are our drugs.
It’s an alternative to bars. I book shows at bars; this is a whole different feeling. This has more of an artistic vibe than a party vibe.”

Although the music played at the collective over the past year has catered to the 18- to 35-year-old crowd, Champagne and Dalton are working on featuring musicians this year to draw in the 50 and older crowd to Counter Culture. Teens are welcome as well.

Art and music are only the tip of the iceberg. The collective offers yoga classes, led by Rachel LaDrig, and an anti-drug group also meets in the space.

The other heartbeat of the collective is community outreach, says Champagne. Last summer, he and Dalton tagged around 1,000 old buildings in Saginaw with cards saying “Hello, my name is.” People were invited to use their imaginations and write suggestions for how to use the structures onto the cards. “It was to give people a chance to own an
idea of what to do with the buildings,” explains Champagne.

LaDrig also works on community outreach with Champagne and Dalton, and the three plan and host the Counter Cruise, a bike ride that is held in the summer months and takes participants through different neighborhoods in the city of Saginaw. For their efforts, each of the trio was chosen by MLive as one of the 2015 Saginawians of the Year.

Champagne and Dalton recently put together Patchwork, an eight-day festival that took place in April and showcased a diverse group of artists, writers, and musicians. Counter Culture served as home base, featuring the work of Penelope Gazin, a Los Angeles artist and musician. “She’s a very trendy artist right now,” Champagne notes. “(Her work) is pretty freakin’ cool.”

Other locations for Patchwork included Creative 360 in Midland, The Compound in Saginaw, and various bars and other venues throughout Bay City, Midland, and Saginaw.

Counter Culture is open five to seven days a week, depending on the event schedule. Champagne suggests checking out the arts collective’s Facebook page to see what’s going on and when.

-Photos by Doug Julian