Aug. 30 2013 12:00 AM

REO Town’s first gallery, closing Sept. 9, falls victim to early gentrification

City Pulse file photo.

Friday, Aug. 30 — Art Alley, the plucky brick gallery at 1133 S. Washington Ave. in REO Town that fired the first volley of art in the resurgence of the old factory district south of downtown three years ago, will close its doors Sept. 9, the gallery creative director, Diane Wilson, announced today.

“That area has gone through its transition,” Wilson said. “It’s the story of gentrification.”

The deluxe new sidewalks and bike lanes along South Washington Avenue were barely dry this week when Lansing’s hottest new post-industrial center of cool officially became out of reach to Art Alley’s struggling artists and musicians.

“The fact is, the gallery doesn’t make any money,” Wilson said. “If we made any money, we gave it to the landlord.”

Art Alley showcased more than 60 artists in its three years, most of whom never exhibited before. Over 100 musicians performed on a small acoustic stage. Five of them went on to record their first CDs, Wilson said.

Wilson is pleased that seven artists who exhibited at Art Alley went on to be invited to show in Grand Rapids’ prestigious ArtPrize competition.

She said she will continue to look for venues to showcase struggling artists.

“Art Alley — the entity, not the building — is a member of Michigan ArtShare Project,” Wilson said. “We are working across counties all over mid-Michigan to connect artists and musicians with places that can show their work.”

Wilson said there are plenty of blighted areas around Lansing and other towns in Michigan for the process to start all over again.

“That’s what we do,” she said. “We’re open to anybody who has a building that they’re currently not getting any rent for, that they don’t care if some money comes in sporadically, and we’ll try to help them turn it around.”

Art Alley started in summer 2010, before Lansing’s Board of Water and Light built its new power plant and headquarters and restored the historic Grand Trunk Railroad station a block to the south, helping to catalyze a surge of renovation along South Washington Avenue.

“With the BWL in and road construction done, it doesn’t look like a blighted area anymore, which is what it looked like when we got there,” Wilson said.

Money was tight from the start. Art Alley funded some of its programs with grants funneled through the Arts Council of Greater Lansing, but grant rules kept the gallery from using the money for rent or capital improvements.

“After one year, we realized the business community was not going to be on board for fully supporting and funding this,” Wilson said. “We would go month to month with whatever businesses we could find that would donate a little bit to have a reception or live music.”

It took some Hamburger Helper-style volunteer work and creative thinking to make every grant stretch.

Wilson said that one $1,000 from the Arts Council was parlayed into 20 concerts by turning the money over and charging a nominal admission fee.

It didn’t help matters, Wilson said, that MSU’s new Broad Art Museum “has taken the donation dollars off the top.”

“There’s only so many donors in town,” she said.

After Art Alley closes Sept. 9, Wilson will keep working with ArtShare to find for more venues for artists.

“Taking an artist out of their garage or basement and showing them what they could be if they could hang it up on a wall in a gallery makes them see themselves differently,” she said. “We have lots of artists who want to show.”

She’ll also scout for gigs for up-and-coming musicians, another frequent happening at Art Alley.

“In Lansing, we have a community who looks at street musicians as vagrants,” she said. “In Ann Arbor, there are street musicians everyplace, where people are sitting in restaurants, paying good money for food and drinks. That’s the difference between a city and Lansing. There’s lots to do.”

Final events at Art Alley

4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 8: Jamie Anderson in concert and promoting her new CD, “Dare.” $15. Profits to benefit Women in the Arts Festival.

Art Alley’s current exhibition by Kimberly Lavon, “You & Me,” will be up in the gallery through Sunday, Sept. 8.