Reaching out

By Gabi Moore

Art center, MSU team up to teach students about place

The streets of Lansing’s REO Town may not appear beautiful at first glance, but the coordinators of a new art program for kids see hidden treasures and allure in the understated neighborhood.

The goal of the program, dubbed Patterns of Place, is to encourage Lansing students to view their community through artistic eyes and foster a relationship between Lansing and nearby Michigan State University.

“This is a community that’s not very public or well known,” said Laura DeLind, a professor at MSU and one of the founders of Patterns of Place. “It’s not flashy; you could look at it and even say that parts of it were run down. And yet, when we walked around, we saw it’s full of remarkable, wonderful things.”

The project is a collaborative effort between Reach Studio Art Center, a nonprofit organization that provides free after school programs for local students, and MSU’s Residential College of Arts and Humanities.

Several professors and artists from the Residential College are involved in the program, teaching students how to explore their community through printmaking, painting, photography and poetry.

Mark Sullivan was the featured artist last Tuesday, where digital cameras were handed out and students were assigned to find and photograph patterns they found.

Sullivan said programs like Patterns of Place help foster bonds between people and their community and allows students to explore their artistic side. “I think that it’s a way for them to develop their skills and kindle an interest that could lead them on to do all kinds of things,” he said. “A lot of the schools had to cut their art programs, so programs like this are one way that kids can do real artistic activity, actively creating art.”

Two different groups of about 20 students have been meeting on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at Reach, 1804 S. Washington Ave., Lansing, since October to learn about art and their community.

The MSU students participating in the program and assisting the younger artists are part of a civic engagement class taught by visiting artist Guillermo Delgado, of Chicago, who was involved in planning the program.

Sam Novak, an MSU student and program mentor, said she enjoyed building relationships with the kids and was impressed by their willingness to work, as well as their artistic abilities.

“This is about civic engagement as opposed to volunteer work,” Novak said. “You’re supposed to be more engaged and really get involved. I’ve done some volunteer work, too, and this is a lot more involved. You really get to know the kids, and it’s a lot more personal.”

One of the children Novak mentors, 7-year-old Aubrey Muethel, tagged at her heels as the young artists romped through the neighborhood looking for patterns.

“We get to do fun stuff and learn new things I haven’t done yet,” Muethel said. “I didn’t know there’s this many patterns in the world.”

Sullivan urged the young photographers to find circles, squares and triangles and to seek out things nobody else noticed. The children spent about an hour outside looking for shapes in their surroundings.

After wandering around the neighborhood, they went inside and searched the studio for new and interesting things to photograph. The photos the children took will be collected and put online for them and their parents to view.

Sullivan said after the session is over on Dec. 16, a collection of artwork from all the young students involved will be collected and displayed in local galleries or storefront windows.

Alice Brinkman, director of Reach and Patterns of Place program coordinator, said the project was made possible by grants from the Arts Council of Greater Lansing and the Lansing School District PAINTS program. A spring session is also planned.

DeLind said she sees the MSU students and younger Lansing students learning from each other and learning more about their community through the program. “How wonderful to be able to help residents, especially young people, use the arts as a way of looking with new eyes at the places in which they live,” she said.