Open secret

By Allan I. Ross
Photo by Kevin W. Fowler

Lansing artist collective elevates its profile with open house

Career artists, for the most part, tend to be self-contained. To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut, they instinctively know that opening the window on their creative process could make their work catch cold. But that’s the paradox of the profession — although art often comes from a secretive place, it doesn’t mean much until the public has its say.

“Creating art is such a solitary activity,” said Ben Duke, founder of 4th Culture Studios, a local artist collective inside Lansing´s John Bean Building. “But sometimes it’s nice to have someone a couple doors down you can have coffee with.”

Or wine and appetizers, as the case may be. On Friday night, Duke and his artist associates are holding an open house to welcome the community in to check out their space and their work. Aesthetes, curiosity seekers and artists looking to join 4th Culture’s ranks are invited to attend the event.

“It’s a collaboration to generate energy and bring attention to the people in the building,” Duke said. “In our space alone, there are 13 artists behind one door, and we’re a pretty eclectic bunch.”

In 2011, Duke rented 6,000 square feet on the third floor of the John Bean Building and invited fellow artists to set up shop inside. (If you’re driving south on Cedar Street coming out of downtown Lansing, you’ve passed by it — it’s the one seemingly wedged halfway under the overpass next to the train tracks. Conveniently, it also has its name on top.) Duke, 37, has been an associate professor of art and art history at Michigan State University since 2006. He created the collective to fill what he saw as a void in the mid-Michigan art scene. His studio is part of what he calls a "thriving fine and commerical art scene" in the building.

“There’s the university experience, which is wonderful, but I was looking for that studio energy,” Duke said. “I couldn’t locate that, so I started this to generate that energy. There were lots of artists around, but no gathering point.”

Augusta Morrison, founder and co-chairwoman of the art collective Lansing Art Works, agrees.

“We don’t have a physical space, which allows us to be more flexible, but that just means we have to constantly transport gear when we have a performance,” she said. “One of our goals is to have a physical space someday, and the John Bean Building seems to be working very well for a lot of local artists.”

Besides 4th Culture, the 450,000-square-foot building is home to over 30 other organizations, including an MMA fighting club, a yoga studio and a fashion design company. Monique Goch, owner of Moxy Imagery & Photography, is one of the building’s tenants. She’s a commercial photographer on the building´s second floor and not part of the collective, but her space will be part of Friday´s open house.

“A lot of us went through the art programs at MSU and LCC,” she said. “And now we’ve started these local businesses based on the skills we gained. This is exactly how it’s supposed to work.”

After working for years in the nonprofit and insurance sectors, Goch recently returned to full-time photography. She said, for her, that meant converting something she loved to do into something that could sustain her.

“If you want to live the dream,” she said. “There’s a price to pay.”

An Evening at the John Bean Building:
Open House of Artists

6 p.m.-9 p.m. Friday, April 26
1305 S. Cedar St., Lansing