It’s unfair to say they came out of the blue. After three years of transforming a dilapidated Old Town building at 718 E. Grand River Ave. into an illustrious urban gallery, META Collective, a new conglomerate of Lansing artists, is set to host its debut multimedia show, “Just this Side of the Tracks,” Saturday.
“It’s not just going to be art, we’re interested in music, film, streaming — every genre imaginable,” META Collective co-founder Greg Zivic said.
Keeping true to the spirit of its namesake, the billing by META Collective displays a higher form of self-awareness, allowing attendees to soak in several aspects of Lansing’s culture. They’ve even booked a punk rock band, a genre which the more painfully posh gallery owners often thumb their noses at.
“Just this Side of the Tracks” features well-known Lansing-area artists, many of whom have received national recognition. New pieces will be shown from printmaker Kimberly Lavon, painters Julian Van Dyke, Robert Shelberg and Brian Whitfield, sculptors Ivan Iler and Dace Koenigsknecht, all of the Such brothers, and at least a dozen more artists of many mediums.
There will be a stage, hand built by Zivic and co-founder Trisha Wilcox, in the center of the gallery, suggesting that the musicians performing at “Just this Side of the Tracks” are hardly an afterthought: Mike Bass, the Dasterds, LeSage, Frances Bennigan and Koni Kyodi.
Zivic and Wilcox began talks of forming an art collective in late 2014. The two met at Sparrow Hospital, where Wilcox worked as an EMT and Zivic continues working as an emergency physician.
Though Zivic earned a BFA from Ohio State in 1980 and made a living as a painter in New York for almost three decades, he went through a career change after a botched robbery left him with a noncritical gunshot wound.
“I went to medical school when I was 43 — it’s a long story” Zivic laughed. “Some guys were trying to steal my truck when I lived in south Brooklyn, I chased them away and they came back around and shot me.”
Zivic, who was not too severely injured, was inspired by the incident to volunteer regularly in the emergency room of the hospital that treated him. Constant volunteering and encouragement from the Brooklyn doctors pushed Zivic through the doors of medical school.
When Zivic met Wilcox, she had already studied fine arts photography for several years but had yet to take the dive into a full-time photography career. She’s since left her position at Sparrow. META Collective is her sole focus.
“I saw her photography and thought it was really good,” Zivic said. “We were both artists who shared a medical background and decided that we both wanted to show our own work. So we bought the building.”
Zivic and Wilcox had help securing the purchase from arts patron Rob Elhenicky. Elhenicky also helped formulate many of the ideas that META Collective has stored for the future.
"Rob is able to appreciate all sides of any situation, and is just as comfortable with a group of artists as he is with politicians," Zivic said. "He specializes in bridging gaps."
Wilcox and Zivic were also assisted by META Collective employee Cathy Hunt.
But completing the gallery would soon prove a daunting task, as the space was nowhere near presentable.
“The place was gutted and there were holes in the roof,” Zivic said. “We did new plumbing, new electric, new HVAC — new everything.”
The reconstruction required the teardown of a wall separating the original building from an addition. By no means a DIY project, Zivic and Wilcox had to hire a professional construction crew to get the job done.
The hard work paid off. META Collective’s renovated space, complete with a lofted ceiling and robust off-white cement walls, screams New York or San Francisco-chic. For Lansing artists craving an extra level of authenticity in their works’ presentation, that’s a big deal.
When the building’s overhaul was nearing completion six months ago, Zivic and Wilcox still lacked connections within the art scene. The two began meeting regularly at their usual haunt, Zoobies, to brainstorm what they wanted to do with the space. They would eventually come across Lansing community arts organizer and fellow Zoobie’s regular, David Such.
After overhearing one of Zivic and Wilcox’s conversations, Such introduced himself and took an immediate interest in their plans.
“Dr. Zivic was telling me about these New York art events, these little pop-up galleries with a lot of cool art, music and entertainment. And after one night, they’d be over and that would be it.” Such said. “I told him, we should do one here.”
In the spirit of a collective, Wilcox said what proved to be the difference between bar talk and actual action was “strength in numbers.”
“Greg’s an artist, Trisha’s an artist, I know a ton of artists because of my involvement with Scrap Fest, and we decided to take this on,” Such said. “We had a mutual understanding. He’s got this cool space, I know all these artists, so we just set a date.”
With Such onboard as an independent producer for the show, he brought along another member of Render Studios, Joshua Burwick. Burwick added another level of experience as the booker of poetry acts for a bimonthly Old Town event, “Arts Night Out.”
Though they are not fulltime members of META Collective, Such and Burwick were able to connect Zivic and Wilcox with the cavalcade of artists they had readily available from their previous art soirées, allowing them to build a prestigious lineup across various mediums for Saturday’s show.
Zivic and Wilcox say the show is the first of hopefully many to come. They have a future-minded attitude with their plans for META Collective, hoping to fill the noticeable void in space for Lansing artists.
“There’s always a void,” said painter Julian Van Dyke. “There’s a need, but where’s the support? People want artists, but do they want to pay them?” META Collective desires to be that support. Though they are a for-profit entity, Zivic and Wilcox, refreshingly, aren’t just in it for the money — of which, let’s be honest, there isn’t much anyway.
“We don’t want to get rich off other artists while they don’t do well,” Zivic said.
“Our whole thing is that we a take a lesser percentage of the profits. We’re trying to be more inclusive and let the public figure out what they like.”
Zivic and Wilcox certainly earned the respect of Van Dyke, whose murals can be seen across Lansing and displayed in galleries across the country.
“I hope they have more shows. With all the talent they’ve been seeking out, I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of this lineup,” Van Dyke said.
The prospect of the new gallery, and Zivic and Wilcox’s communal approach, has excited many other artists around town, all hungry for new avenues to show off their work.
“I’m super stoked about what they’re doing for the community,” Kimberly Lavon said. “The look and feel of what they’ve transformed that space into is stunning. Everyone involved are some of my most favorite people.”
“Just this Side of the Tracks” will see Lavon take over 75 feet of wall space.
A consensus seems to be that META Collective is rising from its primordial state at just the right time for the Lansing arts community. Lansing has been craving a new venue. When City Pulse asked its Facebook followers about their favorite venues, a good chunk of comments argued that Lansing was lacking variety and growing stale.
“New spaces like the gallery can help to bring out more unknown artists and give them a place to showcase what it is that they love to do,” Dasterds guitarist Mychal Shaw said. “There’s a lot of underrated talent in this area, and it’s awesome that there will be a new place to help get that talent noticed.”
The debut show comes just three weeks after Mayor Schor’s announcement of the formation of a blue ribbon arts commission.
“What I’m noticing is a resurgence in the art scene here in Lansing. People are appreciating art more, especially public art,” said Whitfield, who paint- ed the murals under the US-127 overpass. “There’s a heightened interest, and Schor has created an artist group that will promote art even further.”
Taking notice of Zivic and Wilcox’s convenient timing, Whitfield said he can’t help feeling galvanized.
“META Collective is coming at the perfect time for new artists in this area to gather and have art events different from what we’ve already seen,” Whitfield said. “There’s more support, because it’s artists coming together instead of an outside group coming in.”
Arts Council of Greater Lansing Charity and silent auction
Proceeds from “Just this Side of the Tracks” will contribute toward Arts Council of Greater Lansing’s Young Creatives Program. The Young Creatives Program benefits students K-12 in the Tri-County Region through a billboard program, the development of a young creatives guide, and the council’s Artists-in-Residence program which puts teaching artists into the Lansing School District.
Arts Council of Greater Lansing will also hold a silent auction, featuring the unsold artwork from past Holiday Glitter silent auctions. The artist receives 30 percent of the dollar amount, with the rest going toward the Young Creatives Program.