Go, Van Gogh

By Lawrence Cosentino

Sesquicentennial to open with mammoth art contest

A century and a half ago, the most thrilling challenge anyone could throw at you was “Draw.”

It still is.

Draw … paint … weave … sculpt.

To kick off Lansing’s 150th birthday year, the city is launching what must be its biggest and most inclusive art contest since saddle-sore days. Four-figure prizes totaling $10,000 are waiting for Lansing artists of all ages at the Lansing 150 Art Exhibition, to be held Feb. 14-15 at the Michigan Historical Museum.

Any two-dimensional or three-dimensional art that celebrates Lansing’s history is welcome. Catherine Babcock, director of the Lansing Art Gallery, said there are plenty of kids’ shows and professional competitions around, but she couldn’t recall a Lansing-area contest that cast so wide a net. “This is the one that should bring everybody out, even the Sunday painters and the vacation photographers,” Babcock said. Babcock said that sometimes the amateurs outshine the pros, so grab your weapon and start creatin’.

The stakes are high. Winners will be chosen in five age categories from kindergarten through twelfth grade, each with a $1,000 first prize and $500 second prize.

The winner in the adult category, which includes college students, gets $1,000. The wild card is a people’s choice award that comes with a cool $2,000.

Martha Kleibert, director of Lansing 150, hopes that a chance to see 75 to 100 eye-popping works of local art and vote for a big winner should answer a question that nagged the sesquicentennial committee.

“How do you get people to come downtown in February?” Kleibert said.

Lansing’s official birthday is Feb. 15, the day the city was incorporated in 1859. If art isn’t enough, a Sunday reception, ice sculptures the week before the art show and fireworks on Feb. 15 ought to sweeten the deal. From the get-go, Babcock wanted Mark Mehaffey, a distinguished artist and a professor at Lansing Community College, to jury the show. “I don’t think there is anyone who knows Lansing art as well,” Babcock said. Mehaffey has taught elementary, intermediate and high school in Lansing, and run countless workshops for adults.

Mehaffey said he is often asked to jury art shows, and always looks for the same things. “First, you have to have some kind of emotional connection to the piece,” he said. “Sometimes that comes through the design, sometimes the color, but more often it’s through the idea the artist is trying to present.”

Next, Mehaffey looks at how the artist uses principles of design to get that idea across. “The last thing I look for is how the technique enhances the first two things,” he said. Mehaffey is pleased that the competition gives an adult level of respect (and cold cash) to all artists, even the youngest.

Babcock is impressed by Mehaffey’s scholarship program for a Lansing student to attend art school at LCC. “He knows how hard it can be to get that first push, the confidence to go to art school,” Babcock said. For his part, Mehaffey is just as anxious to see what the kids will come up with, as he is to see the professional and adult amateur work. All Lansing art teachers will be invited to fold the contest into their lesson plans.

“This is a really good way to involve young kids,” Mehaffey said. “That’s the future of visual

Lansing 150 Art Exhibition Feb. 14-15 Michigan Historical Museum For entry information, go to Lansing.com