Jan. 5 2011 12:00 AM

Picture is looking clearer for Lansings artists

Courtesy Photo/"Rocky Cascade is an image from Linda Beeman's "12 Views of the Shiawasee River" series.
The Grand Rapids area can boast the world’s largest art competition, ArtPrize. Easy for them — they have sponsors with deep pockets, something the Lansing area lacks. But what Lansing-area arts organizations may lack in big money, they make up for in moxie, small grants and grassroots support.

Many in the art community feel 2010 was a year for positive transitions. In November Lansing Art Gallery announced it would move in order to better fulfill its mission of providing arts-oriented education opportunities. The larger new space, one block north from its current location on Washington Square, will be handicappedaccessible and will also have classroom space, two things its current home lacked.

After struggling through years of ever increasing public funding cuts, Lansing Art Gallery is emerging from survival mode.

“It almost feels like a rebirth,” Executive Director Catherine Allswede Babcock says of the gallery’s upcoming relocation. ”Hard times make you reevaluate what’s important. The last several years have been almost a waiting period for this new beginning,”

Leslie Donaldson, executive director of the Arts Council of Greater Lansing, cites the Council’s grants program for individual artists as one of her favorite successes. In its second year, the program provides not only monetary support to individual artists, but also guidance on legal, promotion and business issues. The goal is to make artists into entrepreneurs who also give back to their community through outreach activities.

Printmaker and grant recipient Linda Beeman is an example of the success of the program. Beeman created a series of prints, “12 Views of the Shiawassee River,” as part of her grant project. “Her public component included a demonstration at Lansing Art Gallery, a couple of lectures, and a public exhibition,” Donaldson explains. “Just from this little seed money, she is now seeing the ripple effects that have not only been impactful in the community, but also for her own personal career.”

It wasn’t all good news, of course. July saw the closing of the Trillium Gallery in East Lansing, after 13 years in business. Yet for that one loss, the year saw more establish- Courtesy Photo ments open, including the Michigan Institute for Contemporary Art, Gallery 1212 and the Katalyst Gallery in Old Town, and Art Alley in REO Town. Art Alley’s mission is to help revitalize REO Town by providing a space for artists to exhibit and perform.

of the most unusual art events to hit the area was the transformation
of Lansing’ notorious Deluxe Inn into an urban gallery. Before the
deteriorating building was scheduled to be razed by the city, graffiti
artists were invited to legally do what they do best: tag the former
haven for drugs and prostitution with their signature street styles.

Studio Art Center, also located in REO Town, salvaged many of the
panels and was subsequently awarded a grant from the Arts Council of
Greater Lansing and the Lansing Economic Development Corp. to host an
outdoor exhibit of the Deluxe Inn works along the REO Town Washington
Avenue corridor in 2011.

Gallery owner Kathy Holcomb felt a palpable, positive change in the
last few months of 2010. “It’s time. Michigan has come through a lot,”
she said, looking visibly relaxed. One big success was an art street
fair in July, a collaborative effort between Holcomb and her Old Town
business peers. “The galleries have been getting together and doing more
things together,” Holcomb explains.

feels that one of the more intriguing developments of the year was the
opening of Craig Mitchell Smith’s gallery in the Meridian Mall, along
with Anselmo Gallery’s relocation next door: “I think that’s getting art
to the masses, and in Lansing that’s hard to do.”

Galleries owner Roy Saper agrees the mall offers an opportunity to
expose more people to art, but he is curious to see if the masses will
buy art in the mall environment. “You don’t know until you do it,” Saper
says. “An entrepreneurial spirit says, ‘Just do it — test it.’”

At his
own East Lansing business, Saper has noticed an increase in art
purchases. “Businesses that are going up, new buildings, they are
knocking on our door saying, ‘Put artwork in this building.’”

Of course,
the biggest development of 2010 is literally a big development. It is
impossible to pass through East Lansing without noticing the progress
being made on the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State
University. While ArtPrize delivers much bang for fewer bucks in Grand
Rapids in the short term, the Broad Art Museum will be a permanent
fixture; however, its impact on the art community in greater Lansing
remains to be seen.

thing is for certain: 2011 will be a strong year for the arts, as these
people and others in the community take art to the streets. Look for
REO Town to be outfitted with more mural and graffiti art, as downtown
is dressed up for the summer City Streets exhibit while, in December,
Old Town will sport giant artistdesigned luminaries. All of this without
the benefit of a quarter-million dollar prize. Take that, Grand Rapids!