July 29 2015 12:00 AM

East Lansing art gallery prepares for its reopening


East Lansing’s (SCENE) Metrospace gallery, which has been effectively shuttered since mid-April, finally has a reopening date. The space, now under the curatorial control of MSU’s Department of Art, Art History and Design, is tentatively slated for a Sept. 18 kick-off reception.

“We’re a little at the mercy of our contractor,” explained Chris Corneal, department chairman. “We’re going to try to bring up the consistency of the space.”

The City of East Lansing voted June 2 to turn control of the space over to MSU after months of negotiations and discussions. The city, which had funded the gallery since its creation in 2004, painted the agreement as a cost-cutting move. The gallery’s budget deficit, projected to be $19,500 this year, is largely off the books. (The city is still on the hook for about $4,000 per year in utilities and maintenance, and will collect no rent from MSU as part of the deal.)

Already, the financial backing of the university is benefiting the gallery space. Some of (SCENE) Metrospace’s deficiencies — which had gone unaddressed or ignored because of budgetary limitations under city management— are being tackled by MSU.

“The lighting had a few gaps in it — dark spots. We wanted more consistent lighting,” Corneal said. “And bringing the walls to a more flat, consistent white. The (existing) flooring starts with concrete that had been painted, and it goes into a tile. We want a consistent surface, so if we’re showing 3D work or floor pieces it’s all consistent. We’re looking at a wood surface.”

The Sept. 18 reception will also mark the launch of the gallery’s first art exhibition, a regionally focused exhibit titled “Place in Proximity.” The department posted a call for works Wednesday. The exhibit is open to any visual artist 18 years old or older living in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana or Ohio.

“The idea made sense to us as a way to launch the space,” said Corneal. “We want it to be an open show. Start regional, and then build to national.”

The application requires an entry fee, $25 for up to three entries and $5 per additional entry. Selections will be decided by by Dustin London, professor of painting at Eastern Michigan University and an alumnus of both MSU and Pennsylvania State University.

Under city management, (SCENE) Metrospace was also a busy performing arts venue and hosted an estimated 75 events per year. In documents produced by MSU before the sale, it seemed that performing arts opportunities in the MSU-run gallery would be limited to university entities for six to eight performances annually. Corneal, however, struck a more inclusive tone last week as he outlined the department’s plans for performing arts events.

“We’re very excited about (performing arts) events,” Corneal said. “We’re working on our call for proposals, which we’ll be putting out online shortly. Anyone can propose an event or exhibition and it will go to a committee for decisions and planning.”

The committee, which has not been finalized, will oversee both visual art and performing art proposals. While Corneal had said in the lead-up to the agreement that there would be room for community input, he made it clear last week that the “deciding body” will be composed of MSU faculty members.

Several community members, most notably members of the East Lansing Arts Commission, raised concerns about the deal as it neared completion. Local musician and commission member Michael Teager has been one of the deal’s fiercest critics, questioning the city’s approach in City Council meetings and on his blog. In a June 11 blog post, he describes the deal as “an unfortunate situation all around,” chiding the city for its lack of transparency and questioning the wisdom of turning over so much control of a city asset to MSU. Corneal, who met with members of the commission prior to the agreement, said he plans to take its concerns into account as the gallery moves forward.

“I got the sense that they wanted to ensure that it would still be a community space, not just an MSU gallery,” Corneal said. “Our priority is community engagement. That’s what this space allows us to do, programming that we couldn’t do before. It’s a chance for MSU to get across Grand River Avenue — that’s not always easy to do.”

While this deal has been in the works for months, Corneal did not want to make any firm plans for the space until the ink was dry. He said the department is still “kicking around ideas” at this point, but that he is also hoping that community help shape the direction of the new (SCENE) Metrospace.

“We’re only limited by the ideas and proposals we get. We’re open to anything anyone can propose,” Corneal said. “We’re really excited about what we can do.”