Jan. 3 2019 11:00 AM

Tiesha King, Lansing’s dark artist

If you appreciate Lansing as a city that’s home to death metal, punk rock, drag shows, burlesque dancing and popup art bazaars, Tiesha King is somebody you should thank. King’s production company Dark Art of Michigan has grown into a beast of its own — her shows are not just a smattering of bands playing to half-awake drinkers.

Instead they completely transform the Avenue Café into a veritable haunted house. At King’s shows, it’s always Halloween.

King, 45, originally hails from Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and moved to Lansing from Denver. She began booking metal shows initially at Mac’s Bar in 2013 under the name Beyond Dead Productions before deciding to branch out beyond just music at the Avenue in 2015. Since this year, she’s also opened Thrift Witch — a vintage clothing/consignment store in REO Town Marketplace — and is partners with Sean Peters, owner of Lansing tattoo shop Eclectic Art Tattoo Gallery. — SKYLER ASHLEY

How did you go from booking metal shows to the bigger productions with Dark Art of Michigan?

When we switched over from Mac’s to the Avenue, nobody had a beef about it. It was totally cool. We had a great time and I said, ‘Man, Sean has this back stock of like 30 or 40 paintings, what am I going to do with these?’ So it was my idea to use the walls of the Avenue to host an art show. So we kind of started doing art shows that were followed by bands. Then it was art shows with bands and vendors. Then it was art shows, bands, vendors and performance art. It’s just been seamless.

When did burlesque and drag enter the mix?

I’ve always been into performance art in some capacity, but with my crippling stage fright it wasn’t really something that I pressed. I started working with Autumn Luciano, from Decadent Dolls and Tease a Go Go, as her street team leader. I was meeting a lot of people that worked with her, and a lot of people from Spiral Dance Bar that told me, ‘Hey, I’ve got a spooky act, can I be a part of your show?’

As a performance artist, I just liked the fact that you’re getting up there and you’re doing something that’s maybe a little risqué. Growing up in the LGBTQ bar scene, I'd always gravitate toward t-girls and drag queens who liked to dress extra. It was a natural thing for me.

How did you acquire your taste for punk rock, goth and metal?

When you’re on your own as a kid, you run into a lot of artists and musicians and other people that are low on the payment scale. Those are the kinds of people that you gravitate toward, and those are the kind of people that felt safe to me.

The band that did it was the Misfits — that was it. I was like, ‘Oh man, these guys like horror stuff AND they’re punk rock? Holy shit!’

Tell us how you started your store Thrift Witch.

There have been people that have started out with Dark Art of Michigan and have gone off and are doing great things. So Thrift Witch, I think, is an extension for our frequent Dark Art vendors. People would talk to me in between shows and say things like, ‘Hey, I need to get with that baby head candle lady’ or ‘Where’s the spider lady? I need to get with her and buy something.’ And I’m often the middle man. So when I opened the store, the idea was to give the Dark Art vendors a year-round place to sell their stuff.

What’s it like booking shows and running a thrift shop in Lansing?

Well, Lansing’s a hard nut to crack. I’ll tell you that. Coming from Denver, there’s was so much of everything. There would be three or four burlesque shows in the city, everybody knew it was happening and nobody got mad. Whereas in a town like Lansing, you have two metal shows in the same night and someone is asking that you do the shows in the same venue or on different nights. As far as Lansing is concerned, there’s always more that can be added to the roster of things to do. My end-goal is to have a wax museum in Lansing. If you’re into horror stuff that’s the top deal. You can find conventions everywhere, but a real wax museum or like a haunted house that doesn’t move? That would be a big deal.

Rev. Phiwa Langeni, Salus Center director

Opening the Salus Center for the Lansing LGBTQ community in 2017, the Rev. Phiwa Langeni, 38, sought to create a community space where all were welcome to worship. Langeni, an ordained minister by the United Church of Christ, seeks to mend the contentious relationship between Christianity and the LGBTQ community through a service of acceptance, love and faith. Salus, the Latin word for wholesomeness, was chosen to symbolize the spirit of the center for Langeni and LGBTQ community it serves. — DENNIS BURCK

Tell me about the “Salus” word choice?

Salus is a Latin word meaning wholeness and well-being. It is the root word for salvation, for example, but it doesn’t have all that baggage. Looking at the etymology to find a word to shape what it is I’m hoping to cultivate here, I literally have to lean back to the Latin word. All these other words come with a lot of baggage and a lot of not what it was once intended. I also like the use of a word that does not exist in our common parlance where we get to define Salus. What is wholeness and well-being? How do we be radical in simple acts of care? That is what I’m trying to do here, to shift culture so a place like this doesn’t have to exist.

What made you want to become a reverend?

It was quite accidentally. I was born and raised in a Christian tradition, but in my late teens I came to realize I am queer. There wasn’t really room for that in the tradition of my birth. I actually left the church for a while and thought, “If that’s what your God is about, I’m not interested.”

I was an undergrad in Alma, Michigan, and a friend of mine invited me to a Pentecostal church. There was something authentic about their worship. The theology didn’t fit with my childhood church experiences. In the church one day, there was a preacher who said the word “vocation.” I had heard this word a billion times before but for some reason when he said it, it landed on my spirit and I knew I had to do it. I spoke to some of my undergrad advisers and said, “What do you think about me going to seminary?” They said it made a lot of sense knowing who I was. I almost wanted them to say no.

When did you want to become a reverend in an LGBTQ setting?

It was 2014 and I had a few years being ordained. I heard of Leelah Alcorn in Ohio. The only reason we know about her is she had a death note come out after she threw herself in front of a truck. In her note, I realized she really did not want to die. Her parents had raised her Christian. They caught her being not a straight cisgender little boy and there were consequences where they would pull her out of school, isolate her and not be allowed to interact with folks. I don’t even call it a suicide, but death by Christianity.

It wrecked me. We were literally dying, so I thought how can I be a representative of the church and spiritual leader about my own identity?

What difference has the center made for the LGBTQ community?

It forms a wonderful, quirky and diverse small community of folks to be able to just be together. We start fostering and making connections that haven’t already existed. Now we are breaking apart the isolation that often accompanies any marginalized identity, especially those who are layered with different minoritized identities.

To dismantle the power of isolation with such high rates of suicide — it helps shift the power and weight of people having to carry their burdens on their own.

Every week, we have an opportunity for people who share any parts of their story. Some of the most beautiful and vulnerable stories have been shared in this space. Just being able to reflect back the sacredness in people’s stories, in their struggles and joys helps them illuminate the divine and sacredness of who they are. It is one of the most radical things we can do as a clergyperson, especially when the Christianity of our day is spouting lies that say the opposite of that.

My work during worship service is not about converting people. Who am I to make claims on other people’s lives and experiences? It is to speak life back into the folk for whom religion and Christianity have depleted their lives. To be able to reshape it to be more consistent to a God many of us believe to be love. Love is not hurt. Love is not supposed to be violent, deadly, uncaring or uncompassionate.

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