April 15 2009 12:00 AM

Arts Council doles out first of new individual artist awards

Craig Mitchell Smith never asks company to leave their shoes at the door. It’s not because he enjoys mopping muddy prints off the floor of his modern Lansing home. He just doesn’t want anyone getting hurt.

You learn to avoid injury when your job entails playing with shards of glass and using a Jacuzzi-sized kiln constantly heated to more than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. But Smith said he wouldn’t have it any other way. “I never considered myself an artist until I found glass,” said Smith, one of few glass artists in the Lansing area. “Nobody is doing this on the scale I am, because they didn’t fall in love with it like I did.”

The Arts Council of Greater Lansing recently recognized the value of Smith’s work, as well as that of Erika Magers, Zahrah Resh, John Whitney and Paloma Rosalis, when reviewing applications for its brand new Individual Arts Grant Program. Each local artist will receive $1,000 cash to help them share his or her art with the Lansing area.

Leslie Donaldson, the Arts Council’s executive director, said the council received 15 applications for the new grants, which were reviewed by a panel of area artists who selected two Emerging Artists and three Established Artists. “We’re very proud of all five of them and quite excited about being able to distribute these awards to them,” Donaldson said.

Donaldson said the new program is possible because of the August 2008 sale of the Center for the Arts building to the city of Lansing for $940,000. Using the interest from the invested proceeds of the sale, Donaldson said the Arts Council created two programs, one for individual artists, and the other to encourage collaboration among arts groups. Applications for the collaborative grants of up to $4,000 are due June 15. An informational workshop about the collaborative grants is scheduled for May 11 at the Arts Council office at 425 S. Grand Ave., Lansing.

Donaldson said her excitement for the program is fueled by the lack of support for artists in the community with the current economic recession. “There’s very little opportunity for individual artists right now,” she said. “Even though the money isn’t as much as we might like, given the fact that interest rates are down right now, we hope in the future there will be more opportunity for greater interest and therefore greater grants.”

Receiving Established Artist grants are East Lansing’s Resh, who will create a solo exhibit of abstract expressionist paintings and a wall relief at Olivet College in the fall of 2009; Lansing’s Rosales, who is planning a project honoring the women of the Mexican Revolution to be exhibited in November 2009; and Mason potter Whitney, who will offer ceramic art instruction at the Mason Public Library this summer.

An Emerging Artist grant recipient, Lansing’s Magers will design and paint a community mural with the help of children, families and neighbors of Lansing’s Black Child and Family Institute between now and June 30.

Smith, who also won an Emerging Artist grant, plans to incorporate glass sculptures into Lansing’s Cooley Gardens. The “Art in the Gardens” exhibition, scheduled to take place July 11, will feature glass flowers among the shrubbery and crystal bird’s nests and cobwebs mounted in trees.

Designing pieces to blend into the gardens shouldn’t be difficult for Smith, who worked as a florist for three years before discovering his knack for shaping glass. Not to mention the fact that the front and back yards of his home, which have been featured on HGTV, are brimming with glass nature. “Nature and poetry and literature provide a lot of inspiration for me,” Smith said.

Smith said all of his pieces have a deeper meaning behind them, which he often makes public. But sometimes Smith chooses to keep his inspiration hidden beneath the glass. “My work is personal,” he said. “If I can make a living with this, that will be the last step. The only way you learn how far you can push glass is when it breaks.”

For more information about the Arts Council and its granting programs, call (517) 372-4636, ext. 10, or visit www. lansingarts.org.

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