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Kissing 2017 goodbye

A look back at Lansing’s cultural landscape


The new year has all but dawned on Michigan’s capital. For most, it’s a time of reflection and for those invested in the arts, we’ve asked ourselves: “What was big in music? Theatre? Art? Radio?” An important year for many fixtures in the greater Lansing cultural community, 2017 is deserving of one last kiss goodbye.

Two of East Lansing’s biggest hives of activity, the Wharton Center for Performing Arts and the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum kept the region busy with consistent shows and exhibits. Bob Hoffman of the Wharton Center called it another “amazing season.” The Wharton Center brought major Broadway attractions to Lansing such as “The Bodyguard” and “An American in Paris.”

The Wharton Center made another important and admirable effort to become more inclusive in 2017 by introducing sensory friendly shows, beginning with an October performance of “Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat.” Sensory friendly shows implement specific light and sound conditions that accommodate those with autism spectrum disorder, developmental disabilities and sensory processing disorder.

Across campus, the Broad was granted $1 million from MSU Federal Credit Union that will support expansion across Grand River Avenue, providing enhanced access and research. Meanwhile, “The Transported Man” was a fascinating collection focusing on the process of belief, and “Another Country” took a look back at the Civil Rights movement with a harrowing series of images observing the other side of American culture.

How locals purchase tangible music went through a shake-up in 2017 after two brick-and-mortar shops celebrated two very different milestones. While stalwart Flat, Black & Circular (FBC) celebrated its 40th anniversary, a controversial property dispute saw the Record Lounge handed an eviction notice after nearly a decade in downtown East Lansing. Owner Heather Frarey, with the help of some friends, successfully relocated to a new storefront in the burgeoning REO Town.

Meanwhile, despite the Michigan State University student turnover rate and the annual exodus of college-age customers every summer, FBC has continued to grow. In September, the vinyl shop celebrated its milestone anniversary with a party at the Avenue Café, which included performances from local bands the Jonestown Crows and Atomic Boogaloo.

Visually, Lansing livened up some of its drab scenery by introducing a series of murals underneath the US-127 overpass on Michigan Avenue. The project, titled “Under the Bridge,” was funded with a $50,000 online fundraising campaign, which was matched by Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

Brian Whitfield was the artist behind the colorful paintings and is known for creating the Mackinac Bridge variant of the Michigan license plate.

The concert scene in Lansing has gone through a strong period of change and evolution thanks to the continued growth of Fusion Shows, which soon celebrates its 10th anniversary. What started as the pet project of Nate Dorough of Howell and Irving Ronk of East Lansing to book hometown shows has grown into a larger business that has attracted national acts not only to Lansing, but across Michigan as a whole. You’d be hard pressed to find a show in Lansing that wasn’t put together by Fusion Shows.

The operation made good on its policy of “fair treatment for all, and setting a standard for positivity and support for artists and fans alike,” at the 2017 incarnation of its annual music festival BLED FEST.

BLED FEST was swift in its handling of a sexual assault scandal tagged to one of its performers, who were immediately dropped from the festival once the lurid story broke. The action set a positive precedent in the overall goal of creating a music scene free from predators.

Another growth to the music community was Urban Beat, a new creative space in Old Town. The venue, spearheaded by Message Makers CEO Terry Terry, is anchored by an aesthetically pleasing brick building and acts as a blank canvas for a myriad of occasions. So far it has hosted weddings, small concerts and even art galleries. It comes as another gathering place for art minded folks and will hopefully bolster the community of Lansing.

On a larger scale, Common Ground Music Festival, Lansing’s largest annual music festival, underwent major changes as well. This year’s festival shrank from last year’s lineup of 55 artists, to hosting just 30. Earlier years in the festival’s lifespan saw the event stretch over an entire week to accommodate the larger line up, this time around it was limited to four days.

The festival continued its notable shift from hosting classic bands and artists from the ’70s, such as Joe Walsh or Lynyrd Skynyrd, to catering toward modern alternative artists and commercially popular rappers. While Toby Keith had a strong turnout, hip-hop has effectively stolen the show.

The local airwaves also went through some changes when longtime WKAR radio host Mark Bashore signed off for the last time in February. Bashore began his work in radio at MSU back in 1971, in the glory days of classic rock acts like Alice Cooper and Emerson Lake and Palmer. After working at a Boston station for 19 years, Bashore made his way to WKAR, where he spoke with almost every community leader in Lansing. WKAR has new personalities filling the gap, such as Karel Vega and Reginald Hardwick.

Rachel Santorelli, former director of marketing & communications for the Lansing Symphony Orchestra, left in July for Texas, where she’ll work for the Austin Symphony Orchestra.

“I’m very grateful for the time I had in Michigan, from graduate school at MSU to working at Wharton Center and finally LSO,” said Santorelli, who started at the LSO in June 2011. “I wouldn’t have had such success if it weren’t for the amazing support I received from the community.”

Looking back, Santorelli said broadening the LSO’s scope was the highlight of her tenure.

“I increased our presence in the media, attendance at concerts and social media interactions,” she said. “I am also proud of


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