Keeping rhythm with Lansing’s recent plunge into public art, another installation is completed — the Lansing Sidewalk Poetry Project. Selected from 76 public submissions, eight poems are permanently engraved into their own personal concrete slabs belonging to four Lansing Neighborhoods: Old Town, REO Town, the Stadium District and the east side.
“If you think about Lansing and its cultural footprint, those four neighborhoods stand out. They have a mature ethos to them,” Lansing poet laureate Dennis Hinrichsen said. “REO Town and the Eastside seem to be up and coming; they seem to be a nice place to focus cultural energy.”
Hinrichsen and the eight other judges were tasked with finding poems that embodied the so-called spirit of each neighborhood. The eight engraved works are odes to subjects familiar to anyone with a working knowledge of Lansing history. But Hinrichsen said the goal was to give a nod to locals, as well as a brief introduction to the neighborhood for out of towners.
“It’s not open mic poetry, it’s not print poetry, it’s poetry that’s going out on the streets. As we thought about it, we knew the poems had to hit a certain note in terms of how they spoke about place,” Hinrichsen said.
The chosen poets penned their tributes with the same mentality. “Mi Pueblo,” located next to the Brenke Fish Ladder, by Cruz Villarreal, a writing assistant at Lansing Community College, pays homage to Old Town’s deep Latino history.
“It’s where many of the migrants during the sugar beet era moved into during the ‘40s,” Villarreal said. “It’s kind of cool to keep that history from disappearing, because it’s an important part of Lansing.”
But Villarreal also wanted to celebrate the unity within Old Town.
“You know what a fish ladder is, right? It’s a bunch of pools. The fish, they congregate in those pools and they work their way up; then they move on. It’s very representative of what is actually happening in Old Town.”
Therese Wood, a registered nurse case manager living in East Lansing, used her poem “A Nod to Robert Busby,” located on Turner Street, to remember his influence in shaping Old Town, and the Lansing art scene altogether.
“He was a visionary kind of person. Where other people saw old buildings with nothing going on, he saw a place where there could be art, jazz and great food. He made that happen, and people have built on that since he’s been gone,” Wood said.
Wood is optimistic that visions, such as the late Busby’s, are likely to gain more traction, thanks to Mayor Andy Schor’s push to get the arts involved in city government.
“Detroit and Grand Rapids have more of a balance between sports and arts. Bringing more arts freelancing and giving more opportunities to people to engage in the art gives us more balance.”
As the Lansing Sidewalk Poetry Project prepares for its gala and reception Thursday, Hinrichsen is also hopeful the trend of public art will continue.
“This makes Lansing an attractive place to live; it isn’t just another crap ass building going up,” Hinrichsen said. “Your life is almost an artistic gesture against this backdrop. Any kid from any economic strata can look at it, and be changed by seeing the possibilities of making art out of one’s life.”
Lansing Sidewalk Poetry Project
Celebration Thursday, 6 to 8 p.m. Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center 119 N. Washington Sq., Ste. 101 www.lansingpoet.com