The arts were barely mentioned in the first roadmap developed by Lansing Mayor Andy Schor’s transition team, but they are on his radar screen now. As Schor’s transition team on economic development met to finalize its report, the arts went from nowhere to being listed among four top priorities for the city.
Schor plans to assemble a task force on the arts, to be announced in his State of the City address Feb. 7. “There is an incredible interest,” Schor said. “When I first started talking about the idea of this task force, I mentioned to maybe four people, and we already have a list of 15 people who want to be on it.” A variety of old and new dreams, from a city arts liaison to a downtown performing arts center, will be on the table. But Schor said nothing will be done without grassroots community support.
“It can’t just be government dictating, ‘We’re going to have arts and you’re going to like it,’” Schor said. “There has to be the interest within the community.” Schor knows the arts can make or break your day. The piped-in music that emanates from Orwellian speakers at downtown diners and shoppers got him at least one vote.
“You talk about the roads and this and that,” Schor said. “I had someone grab me on the street during the campaign who said, “Do this one thing and I’ll vote for you.’ I said, ‘OK.’ He said, ‘No more Pitbull.’” According a mysterious formula, tunes from rapper Pitbull are shuffled with the Rat Pack songs former Mayor Virg Bernero favored in the downtown mix. But Schor is looking for bigger ideas
than tinkering with the downtown playlist. He is familiar with the language of placemaking and the arts from his time at the Michigan Municipal League. “Placemaking and walkability means
arts, parks and museums,” Schor said. “All the research shows that young people look for a place to live, and they find a job in that place. They’re looking for fun, for culture, for things to do. It’s not going to a place because the taxes are low. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have as many people in Ann Arbor, East Lansing, Manhattan, San Francisco.” The Lansing Art Gallery’s director, Barb Whitney, is one of the arts leaders who are eager to serve on Schor’s arts task force. “One of the best things about working with Mayor Schor is that he’s open-minded about including the arts,” Whitney said. “I stopped him in the street prior to the election and invited myself to any arts committee he might be forming.” Across the country, Whitney said, ment agencies are recognizing the value municipalities and economic develop- as a vehicle for attraction and retention.”
of the arts “as a driver for the economy, Whitney added that the arts are “a way for us to communicate, a thinking vehicle, a conversation vehicle and a first amendment right,” and, generally make life worth living. However, she has found that the economic arguments work best with municipalities. The arts draw more tourist money than professional sporting events, golf, biking combined, according to a 2015 boating, hunting and fishing, hiking and study published by MSU Extension — some $2.5 billion a year.
The density of Lansing’s arts and cultural events is comparable to that of Portland, Oregon, Whitney said. “But we have a perception issue about what is happening and whether people feel it’s for them,” she said. Whitney would like to see more temporary, site-specific art, similar to Grand Rapids’ ArtPrize.
“Temporary art has an ephemeral quality that can be really exciting and engaging and draw people to the area,” she said. Whitney’s staff is already working with Emily Stevens of Lansing’s Parks and Recreation Department on an array of site-specific public art along the Lansing River Trail, to launch in June of this year, after the trails have been resurfaced and fixed up.
Community Economic Development Jamie Schriner, director of the Association of Michigan, served on the economic development team of Schor’s transition committee.
Schriner said the committee talked and the arts are a crucial part of local a lot about helping the neighborhoods, development. “That’s really what triggered the revitalization of, certainly, Old Town and you could make the argument for REO Town, and the east side, to some point,” Schriner said. “With Andy at the helm, I’m really excited to see where the city goes.” Schor is aware that plans for a downtown performing arts center that would hold concerts, plays, films and other events go back to Mayor David Hollister’s administration.
He said that if the community interest is there, he’s open to revisiting the idea.
“If we get the Arts Council, if we get the Lansing Symphony, if we get all these people to say, ‘Here’s an idea, here’s a plan, here are the people making it happen,’ then you get people writing checks,” Schor said. “You need to have an organization. Jack Davis is not going to write a big check if it’s a pipe dream,” he said, naming a longtime symphony board member and donor.
Schor supports another downtown project that is closer to reality, a proposed band shell at Adado Riverfront Park.
Recalling Sunday afternoons with his two young children at Lake Lansing’s band shell, Schor said the Lansing project would be “a big positive” and his administration would “help out with the city where we can.”
But he cautioned that cost is always an issue.
“When they did the band shell at Lake Lansing, they raised that through community support,” he said. “It wasn’t Meridian Township that paid for it. We can help facilitate that, but a lot of that has to be from the ground up.”
As winter melts into spring, Shor’s arts task force will help him set priorities. Meanwhile, he said his staff is still unpacking boxes and hasn’t even followed up on the piped-in Pitbull issue.
“I was like, ‘OK, we’ll look into it,’” Schor said. “It’s not like a radio where you change the dial. It’s actually fairly complex.”