When festivals attack!

By Rich Tupica

REO Town reinventing itself as place 'where art is made.'

If you drive south on Washington Square out of downtown Lansing, just beyond I-496 you’ll hit REO Town. At least, you used to. Now you hit a Road Closed sign, a Sidewalk Closed sign, and, to top it all off, an orange Detour sign with giant arrow pointing toward the highway.

A couple of grants are giving the area a much needed street-and-sidewalk makeover — complete with bike lanes, bike racks and benches — but it seems like the universe is conspiring against people even entering this sector of the city. Not what you’d call a prime location for a festival, let alone one that features an art competition, live bands and a beverage tent.

But REO Town unveils its Art Attack! festival anyway this Saturday, as part of a loftier idea to show some love to this often overlooked Lansing district.

“Our goal is to have Old Town as the north pole and REO Town the south pole,” said organizer Ryan Wert, who is also treasurer of the REO Town Commercial Association, which hosts the event. “The idea is to make it more visually continuous.” He says hosting festivals and opening Art Alley are efforts to help brand REO Town as an arts-friendly part of the city.

The main attraction of Art Attack!, now in its second year, is the Showdown in REO Town, a live-art competition which gives artists in a variety of media — including photography, textiles and metalwork — six hours to complete a piece in front of the audience. As for music, bands include the Lansing Unionized Vaudeville Spectacle, P.H.I.L.T.H.Y. and Jory Stultz. Wert said he’s hoping people will battle the congestion.

“All of our parking is torn up, so no matter which spot we chose it was going to be kind of a headache,” Wert said. “But we didn’t want to skip a year. We wanted to keep up the momentum from last year, but right now the street is only open for northbound driving.”

Commercial association board member Paul Holland has been Wert’s co-organizer throughout the planning of both Art Attack! festivals.

“REO Town is an area on the cusp,” Holland said. “If you came down here a couple years ago, there wasn’t much going on. Now you see all of this investment happening. I think the sights are turning to REO Town.” Holland, 26, said that was enough motivation to ramp up this year’s festival, which also features fare from the REO Town Pub, Grand Grillin and Gator’s Grill. Children’s activities will be hosted by Reach Art Studio.

“Last year we organized Art Attack! in just over two months and we still had around 500 people show up, plus there were only six bands,” Holland said. “This year have 18, plus a much bigger area.”

While REO Town is undergoing a renaissance similar to the one Old Town once experienced, Wert said the two areas are not in any sort of competition. He envisions REO Town as “grittier,” and Holland agrees.

“There’s no reason to compete with Old Town,” Holland said. “People go there to buy and appreciate art, but REO Town is positioning itself to be the place where people go to create and experience art. This is where it’s made.”

REO Town Art Attack!
Saturday, Noon to 11 p.m.
Lansing’s REO Town district
Corner of Malcolm X and Washington Avenue
All ages, art area is free, music area $5 in advance/$8 gate