The road running from Michigan State University to the Capitol may share the name of Chicago’s biggest shopping district, but the East Lansing-to-Lansing version of Michigan Avenue is no Magnificent Mile.
For the most part, it’s a humdrum street full of flavorless storefronts and one golf course gone wild — with Frandor, it should be noted, a pale comparison for the Loop. However, a group of MSU students and faculty members have started an innovative project — called The Ave — that they hope will bring some positive attention to the strip through a unique blend of filmmaking, history and storytelling.
“It’s not all about the businesses on Michigan Avenue — it’s about the people,” said Emanuele Berry, an MSU student and contributing producer of The Ave. “So many people from different cultures and backgrounds are driving and surviving in this area. We’ve all come together to create a life along this street.”
The Ave consists of a collection of eight lime-green placards positioned in front of select businesses along Michigan Avenue, including The Listening Ear, the Soup Spoon Café and, in a fun bit of synchronicity, the newly renamed Avenue Café (formerly Gone Wired). Each placard comes with telephone numbers and QR codes that allow users, depending on their level of technology, to be routed to either a recorded message or linked to a two-minute video. This is the same kind of technology frequently used for self-guided museum tours.
Project coordinator Vincent Delgado says similar municipally themed, “place-making” projects were hatched in New Orleans and Toronto. He said one of the main purposes of the project was to make Lansing more attractive on an innovative level to that vital local population segment— you know, the one that leaves the area right after college.
“The great creative minds overflowing MSU’s campus don’t know there is a very vibrant, creative community happening all around them,” Delgado said. “They’re not going to stick around because they don’t understand how they can connect to it. The things they are looking for are right here.”
So what does place-making have to do with enhancing the Lansing community? Katie Wittenauer, communications manager for MSU’s Residential College in the Arts and Humanities, the program behind the project, says it has everything to do with creating a tangible representation of the lives of those surrounding it.
“When stories become more visible there’s increased conversation and a greater sense of knowledge about those stories,” she said. “And that knowledge spreads beyond the immediate location.”
The stories range from profiles of local artists to the histories of local businesses. Berry and other MSU students generated content for the first set of stories, which includes an ode to Michelle Obama read by Liz McMurray of Liz’s Alterations and Gifts, and details about a benefit show at The Loft. Each tale has its own charm and a playful, personal tone.
“For both visitors and residents, people don’t see Michigan Avenue as special,” Berry said. “It doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Maybe The Ave will generate dialogue or encourage people to become advocates for Lansing and this area.”
If they get a good response, The Ave team hopes to expand the project into Lansing’s Old Town and REO Town districts, as well as on to Grand River Avenue in East Lansing. Whatever it accomplishes, the project’s contribution toward promoting Lansing’s community feel is definitely something worth texting, Tweeting, Facebooking, Instagramming or doing whatever these kids today are doing.
Various locations along Michigan Avenue
Official launch 1 p.m. Sept. 25
The Avenue Café (formerly Gone Wired)
2021 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing