Inside Track: Hagedorn brings art to the party

Entrepreneur uses her education and experiences to create unique fundraisers and community events.
When the pandemic ruined a painting project, Cynthia Hagedorn instead delivered more than 200 art kits to children stuck at home.

Whether it’s fashion, entrepreneurship, painting or cooking, Cynthia Hagedorn has done it all and continues to do so for the benefit of her community.

She is the owner of The Property in Lowell, which she uses to have she calls Lawn pARTies so the public and community leaders can paint and eat, all the while raising funds for various programs such as Care on Canvas.

Hagedorn is currently enrolled at Cornell University to pursue a certification as a whole food plant-based chef. While she’s doing that, she’s using her love of food and cooking as a fundraiser to help children and adults.

The Care on Canvas program is a partnership between Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital and Make-A-Wish Foundation where Hagedorn paints with kids who are fighting cancer.

Hagedorn’s venture into entrepreneurship was not something that was foreign to her. The Cadillac native grew up in a family where her parents owned a salon shop in the city’s downtown area. By way of her parents, Hagedorn was connected to her community.

That sense of community never left her as she grew older. When she went off to college, Hagedorn knew she wanted to pursue a career in fashion at Northwood University. However, she ended up studying macroeconomics and later receiving a degree in art anthropology from Indiana University Bloomington. 

“It’s all about understanding the business platform to thrive in the arts,” she said. “Art anthropology connects fashion and design with economics because art anthropology is a study of the arts and how it (creates) bridges for people to understand each other.”

The Property
Position: Executive Producer
Age: 54
Birthplace: Cadillac
Residence: Lowell
Family: Daughter August and son Alden
Business/Community Involvement: Partnerships with Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, Grand Rapids Children’s Museum
Biggest Career Break: “When I started Kids Art Fest because it launched me into the community of Grand Rapids. With Kids Art Fest I was involved with so many community leaders.”

When she graduated, she started a business called Time Savers, which was an errand service. She cleaned houses, cooked dinners and shopped for families.

After a few years of running her business, Hagedorn started her family. Her then-husband was enrolled at Western Michigan University to become a physician assistant. She was a stay-at-home mom, but when her entrepreneurial spirit kicked in, she started selling children’s and educational books. 

After he graduated, they spent two years in Toledo, Ohio, where he worked for a children’s hospital. Hagedorn began homeschooling their children and her teaching method was literature-based.

“Whether we were learning about the French culture or Michelangelo, we would always bring in books, whether story books, chapter books, reference books or periodicals,” she said. “The children and I would take trips. Instead of field trips, we would call them our safaris. We would go to the Detroit Zoo, Battle Creek Zoo, Toledo Zoo and the Cleveland botanical gardens. We would go and we would study different topics. We would be gone for a week at a time. Our process for education was called unschooling. It was just let kids be kids. They would play, but also talk to different professionals. Instead of doing science projects in a classroom, we would talk to the scientists at colleges and universities.”

While homeschooling was important, Hagedorn said she also wanted her kids to socialize with other children. She decided to start a book club that grew to include 50 to 60 children who were in grade one or lower. They would have different events at least three times per week including Valentine’s Day parties, St. Patrick’s Day parties and other gatherings.

Hagedorn continued that tradition of homeschooling when she and her family moved to Holland and when her children got older, she decided to send them to school. Nevertheless, Hagedorn continued a homeschooling program for children who were in elementary school. 

“They had a lot of programming for children who were in sixth, seventh and eighth grades and in high school, but they didn’t have anything for kindergarten, first, second or third grade students and that is really the time when children need to have in-time with their friends. That’s why I started that program in Holland,” she said.

Although Hagedorn established her homeschooling program, she said she found that she still had a lot of time on her hands, so she took her love for fashion to the streets of Holland and launched an event called Live Mannequin Night where businesses and restaurants would have individuals pose as a mannequin in their window once per year.

“I would work with the stores to have people pose as mannequins in their window,” she said. “The individual would stand perfectly still like a mannequin for an hour and a half. We did themes. For example, one of the themes for a wine store in downtown Holland was music. They had a model dressed like Amy Winehouse standing still while holding a glass with wine in her hand.

“Each year was a different theme, and each store came up with a new idea or concept based on a theme that related to what they were selling. The idea was that it would give attention to the connectiveness. When people are walking by, they can say, ‘Wow, look at that.’”

She produced the event for 10 years in Holland and it is still occurring in the city now. Hagedorn produced Live Mannequin Night in St. Joseph and also in Grand Rapids, which was called Downtown Live. 

During that same time period, Hagedorn started a children’s program for the Holland Farmers Market, which included a chef demonstration series. She also became the director of galleries at the Holland Area Arts Council, and she launched a business called Downtown Ducere, where she worked with the visitor’s bureau to give tours of the city. 

Hagedorn later wanted to focus more on children and healing and through her role at the arts council, she started working with Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital for an artist-in-residence pilot program. Due to construction at the hospital, she decided to put the program on hold. Not long after, she began partnering with other community leaders to produce Kids Art Fest for the first three years of ArtPrize. Kids Art Fest still is taking place during ArtPrize.

In addition to producing Live Mannequin Nights, Kids Art Fest, starting Downtown Ducere and conducting homeschool programming, Hagedorn also started camps for kids, taught in classrooms and lectured at libraries, but when the pandemic started, she said she had to “reinvent herself.”

Hagedorn was launching a fundraiser at restaurants for her Care on Canvas program, which is an extension of the artist-in-residence program she started at the children’s hospital.

The idea of the Care on Canvas fundraiser at restaurants involved Hagedorn partnering with food and beverage establishments to paint inside their space. The public could pay to paint based on a particular theme.

The pandemic put a halt to that program before it even started.

“It was all set to launch and then everything shut down,” she said. “I had a lot of supplies, and I was ready to go. I had everything written out like business proposals and everything.

“So, I decided to do a delivery service because all the kids were at home. I was home and I had all the supplies, I delivered them to people’s houses. I did pick-ups and drop-offs. The kits had glue sticks, glitter, coloring sheets, paper and the concept of their theme. It was basically what they would have done at a restaurant. I probably dropped off 200 kits. I delivered 60 kits for Valentine’s Day at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.”

Then, Hagedorn decided to create Lawn pARTies at The Property. The Lawn pARTies were based on an artist, such as Van Gogh. All the table settings were centered around that theme.

Hagedorn also did other art-related events. Recently, she decided to start tastings, brunch and dinner pARTies, where the funds will go toward Care on Canvas. Those events made use of her work with whole food chef certification. 

“I have no intentions of doing anything more with that,” she said. “I mainly just want to better the experiences of people who come here. I want to deepen my understanding of cuisine and especially nutrition. It’s just an extra interest in that.”

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