Placemaking for regional revitalization
The Arts Council of Greater Lansing helps to create community

In the last few years, Lansing has seen a huge volume of urban revitalization projects. Old Town, REO Town and sections of Michigan Avenue are being pumped up and revamped. This year, the Arts Council of Greater Lansing is taking this same spirit of reinvigoration on the road to surrounding communities, with its first ever Create Place Consulting Program.

“The arts council started in 1965 and through the years our work has been about supporting and promoting arts and culture in the tri-counties,” said Deborah Mikula, executive director of the Arts Council. “Some of our work in the last three or four years has been very focused on creative placemaking.”

Placemaking is an economic development strategy that helps communities through the addition of art with heavy input from those living in the area, Mikula said. But with urban revitalization’s infamous sibling, gentrification, the Create Place Consulting Program’s community involvement is meant to change a community for the better — and for everyone.

“It’s coming from the residents and those that are working in those communities,” said Mikula. “The opinions, the ideas, everything comes from them. We’re then synthesizing through it and then writing up a plan of attack that came out of their own mouths.”

Already, the Creative Place consulting program has drawn up preliminary plans with two out of the three communities they’re working with in 2017.

“In St. Johns, they want to do a farm-totable event,” said Mikula. “It will be created with all locally sourced food and would become an event that would help them pay for a three-story mural downtown.”

In Mason, Mikula said community members want to spruce up a highly trafficked alley in their downtown.

“They’re calling it their Art Alley,” said Mikula. “They would like to activate that space and put a lot of art along the walls, put lighting in and make it a vibrant space to gather and to highlight some of the things that are happening in Mason.”

Eaton Rapids, the third community the Arts Council is consulting with, has not yet decided on a of placemaking project. They intend to enact, but Mikula has high hopes for it.

The program consists of two meetings, the first a preliminary brainstorming session with the Arts Council and community members from the selected towns.

The brainstorming group consisted of roughly 20 members from St. Johns’ own Arts Council, members of Clinton County’s Economic Development Center and other community members.

“We let the community choose their own people to be at the table,” said Mikula, “people that could make projects happen that were creative enough in their thought process and wanted to come around the table to discuss the projects.”

In the second meeting, the teams finalize the plan and draw up a course of action to accomplish it.

“Once the plan is written and handed back to them, we ask that they accomplish it in a year,” said Mikula. “We provide technical assistance throughout the year and if they call us we can come back together and keep them motivated to accomplish those placemaking ideas.”

None of these initiatives could have been possible without financial partnerships between the Arts Council of Greater Lansing and Greater Lansing Regional Prosperity Initiative and a dose of state funding.

“Gov. Snyder has allocated a number of resources to each of the prosperity regions across the state to support different projects,” said Mikula. The Greater Lansing Regional Prosperity Initiative received a portion of these funds and used them to support the Arts Council’s Create Place consulting program.

Despite all the moving parts, Mikula’s hopes for the projects are straightforward: “That they happen and that they make an impact,” she said. “We want to see more communities actually create some robust and vibrant projects that will get more people in their community to see the impact they’re making through arts and culture.”

Only in its first year, the Arts Council of Greater Lansing is already taking applicants for the 2018 iteration of Create Place Consulting Program.

“We’re trying to go out of the urban core and do some work within some of those smaller communities that might not have the kind of resources at their disposal,” said Mikula. “We had the city of DeWitt call, we have meetings scheduled with them in October and we’re looking at Grand Ledge and Williamston, too.”

While the Arts Council plans this year and next year’s Create Place Consulting Program, it’s easy to get caught up in a pile of organizational logistics. But Mikula says their objective isn’t really that complicated.

“At the end of the day it’s about the pride we feel in our community,” Mikula said. “We want to see the pride just keep increasing and our communities becoming better places because of the work that they’ve done.”