July 1 2009 12:00 AM

Arts Council finds home in Lansing’s arts district


Sitting outside on the steps of 1208 Turner St., in Lansing’s Old Town, Leslie Donaldson knows just about everyone that passes. The executive director of the Arts Council of Greater Lansing is greeted with bubbly hellos, invited to peruse a selection of art, complimented on her haircut and thanked for a generous grant, all within the span of 15 minutes. Outside in Old Town, it’s clear that Donaldson has connections, which makes the building that sets behind her a great fit for the Arts Council, which has signed a lease to move there starting today. “It’s a very intimate, close-knit community down here, which is all very appealing to us,” Donaldson said.

For the Arts Council, a resource agency with a mission of advocating for and advancing arts and culture in mid-Michigan, the move is long in the making and a part of a turbulent recent history.

After the organization sold the Center for the Arts, where it had resided in downtown Lansing for years, to the City of Lansing last August, the group had planned to make the Old Town jump into a space below Ciesa Design on Grand River Avenue last October. Staff members had even ordered furniture and were awaiting its arrival when the office space’s close proximity to the Grand River made it vulnerable to flooding.

“At that time, we were getting close to Silver Bells and didn’t feel like we could fix the space or look for another space fast enough, so we decided to keep our lease going with the city of Lansing until we found another spot,” Donaldson said.

The organization, which coordinates Silver Bells in the City and supports local arts organizations and artists, employs three staff members, who hope to be fully moved into the new space by late August, Donaldson said.

With the new space, Donaldson said she sees more opportunities for the organization, including stronger ties with the Old Town Business & Art Development Association, located next door; a door even connects the two spaces. Donaldson said the two organizations hope to work together to do more for visual arts programming and the local music scene.

Another new opportunity to support visual artists comes in the form of wall space for exhibits. Donaldson said the Arts Council would host regular rotating exhibits by local artists, but she wasn’t sure yet whether it would participate in First Sunday gallery walks.

The exhibits will mark the return of art to the walls at 1208 Turner St.; the last ten ant in the space was The Banyan Gallery, before ite closed last summer. (The space was also City Pulse’s first location.)

Passerby and artist Zahrah Resh showed excitement about the new space on Friday. Resh, who stopped to thank Donaldson, is one of the first recipients of a new Arts Council grant program created by the proceeds from the sale of the downtown building.

In addition to the exhibition space, it’s one of the many new ways the Arts Council hopes to stretch its influence while in Old Town.

“Being located in Old Town where we can be a part of a small arts environment that’s thriving, we’re pretty excited about that,” Donaldson said. “Having a space like this, we will be able to increase our visibility, so hopefully we will be able to better serve more people.”