May 18 2011 12:00 AM

Collaborative project aims to freshen up REO Town streets


Throughout the day on Monday, Lansing’s graffiti artists
gathered in a REO Town parking lot to work their magic on canvases of
wood, stone and steel. 

There was nothing cloak and dagger in the
arrangement, though. These artists — far from the “taggers” that many
cities have attempted to crack down upon — were invited as part of the
latest in a joint effort by the REACH Studio Art Center and the REO Town
Commercial Association to breathe new cultural life into the city.

The artists themselves were organized by local street
artist Sam deBourbon, who oversaw last year’s graffiti project at the
now-demolished Deluxe Inn.

The event was held in conjunction with
National Hip Hop Week and, more specifically, National Graffiti Day. The
week is dedicated to music, but also to the memory of activist Malcolm
X, who spent his early years in Lansing. To that end, artists and their
audience were greeted with music provided by Simón Perazza, another of
the event’s organizers, and director of constituent relations for
ArtServe, a statewide nonprofit dedicated to putting together art

For the day, artists were allowed to
paint a wall of Discount Dave’s store, near Art Alley, as well as wooden
panels that would be affixed to 3-D metal structures.

Work on these sculptures began as far back as January,
however, with bases crafted by local artist Tom Sheerin. Sheerin, who
describes himself as a recycling artist, said the bases consist of
materials taken and repurposed from wherever he could find them. The
bases were also put on wheels— an appropriate sight for the area.

“We chose automotive wheels for the automotive history
here,” Sheerin said. “This neighborhood used to be made up of families
that worked at the local factory.”

Yet the key ingredients to the sculptures were pieces of the once-notorious Deluxe Inn. 

Many panels removed from the inn’s doors and windows
weren’t sold at auction, and rather than sit on the abundance, Reach
Studio decided to put them to use. According to Reach Studio’s outreach
coordinator, Jeana-Dee Rogers, this project presented the perfect
opportunity. In all, 10 panels were pulled for artists to paint to their
hearts’ content. Once finished, the panels were installed onto
Sheerin’s structures on-site.

“It’s about embracing what’s in the backyard, the culture
that’s already here,” Rogers said of the pieces. “We’re trying to give
people an avenue to express themselves creatively and show that REO
Town, Lansing, and everyone embrace what already exists.”

The finished products will be set along Washington Avenue.
There, Lansing’s graffiti will find a semi-permanent home, until winter
sees them housed elsewhere. Organizers hope this will be more than a
onetime deal, though. 

According to Rogers, while the details are still in the
works, REACH Studio is looking to make this artistic convergence an
annual affair, to keep the structures along Washington Avenue
continually fresh.