Oct. 23 2013 12:00 AM

Community art director cuts ribbon on upgraded REO Town space


In 2003, Alice Brinkman leased an 1,100-square-foot building on the 1800 block of Washington Avenue in Lansing — the southernmost edge of REO Town — and stocked it with art supplies. Her goal: To share a love of making art with Lansing-area youth. It was a tiny space, but it was big enough to hold about a doz en kids and two volunteer art instructors.

After 10 years of being cooped up in that tiny room — and four years of searching for a new home — this week, REACH will grow into a complex that encompasses the entire block adjacent to that inauspicious starter building. And just like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” the answer was right in Brinkman’s own backyard. Today at 5 p.m., Brinkman will celebrate the expansion with a ribbon-cutting event called There’s No Place Like Home, featuring speakers from the Lansing Economic Area Partnership and the Capital Region Community Foundation. There will also be student-led tours, as well as the unveiling of the redevelopment plans for the exterior, which still look like a row of vacant storefronts. It’s not pretty — yet — but to Brinkman, it is, indeed, home.

“I located in this area originally because it was my neighborhood,” Brinkman said.

“It’s an area of Lansing that needs a lot of attention. We have people who come from all over Lansing and other communities. We’ve developed a presence here (and) it was important to try to stay (here).”

Brinkman, 55, has a master’s degree in textiles, but got her start in art education in the mid-‘90s volunteering at the nearby Moores Park Elementary School where her two kids went to school. (Moores Park closed in 2009.) Brinkman eventually became an after-school art teacher for the school district in a program called Art Smart, sponsored by the Lansing Art Gallery.

Then in 2003, she worked with REO Town Commercial Association to form REACH to provide free and low-cost (less than $50 semester) visual art classes in a variety of media for toddlers up to adults. Growing up in East Lansing, Brinkman said she had many opportunities to experience art, but had grown disappointed to see the dwindling exposure to arts education in Lansing schools. She said she started REACH in part because of her belief that “educating in the arts is a vital piece of educating the child.”

“With art being removed from their usual school day, it becomes even more necessary to have a place,” she said. “Particularly for those kids who really respond to that chance to exercise creativity. There can’t be too many places for youth to have structure and yet have freedom to explore.”

About 900 people participate in REACH programs each year, which include Creative Tots, Creative Connections (for elementary students), Teen Studio and Open Clay Studio (accommodating adults). The staff consists of community volunteers and Michigan State University. With the expansion, the goal is to bring in about 1,700 youths and adults annually.

In 2011, REACH received a $75,000 Capital Region Community Foundation Impact Grant, giving the program more options in the search for a new home. Initially Brinkman was going to relocate; issues such as a lack of parking and green space seemed like deal breakers. She also worried that their board wouldn’t be keen about taking ownership of the row of buildings.

“We asked the owner of the building how much they would want for the (other) buildings, and the price was right,” Brinkman said. “We could have what we need and get rid of some of the buildings to create a protected green space outdoors.”

A home that sits behind the row of properties was also included in the sale, which came to almost the exact total of the grant: $75,000. Part of the redevelopment plan is to demolish the home, making room for a parking lot. Brinkman said that as soon as a construction company is selected, work will begin immediately with a target open date of summer 2014.

According to the blueprint plans to be unveiled at the ribbon cutting, there will be five dedicated areas carved into the new super studio: a massive general-use studio; one for clay work; another for fiber art, a teen-specific art studio; and a multi-use dance/performance space. In all , the 9,500 square feet of space — not including the covered green space — will increase REACH’s footprint tenfold.

Brinkman said the larger classrooms would provide more flexibility with what REACH can accommodate. She said she imagines the expansion will allow for school field trips, bringing entire classrooms to do art projects. Additional adult programs will be feasible with the expansion, including workshops with visiting artists. Brinkman also says she has received many requests this year from different entities other than schools wanting to set up special events, like custom art classes.

“Our teens have been spending the last couple of years working on community art projects,” Brinkman said. The most recent is a mural REACH participants painted on the side of Bancroft Flowers on Lansing’s east side in August. “We’re providing this space for the youth, but then those youth are learning how to give back. As an art studio, (REACH) provides a place for youth to be able to practice creativity and use their imaginations in a beneficial way.”

There’s No Place Like Home

REACH Studio Art Center Ribbon Cutting Ceremony 5 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 23 1804 S. Washington Ave., Lansing (517) 999-3643 reachstudioart.org