May 18 2011 12:00 AM

Collaborative project aims to freshen up REO Town streets

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    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
    events.


    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. 

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