April 13 2011 12:00 AM

Five local artists raise their profiles on new billboards



Craig Mitchell Smith had noticed quite a few unrented billboards in the Lansing area. He wondered if there was something that could be done to make them more aesthetically pleasing.

Smith, a local glass artist, suggested letting artists paint the billboards; that idea evolved into a partnership between the Arts Council of Greater Lansing and Adams Outdoor to display the work of five local artists on billboards. (They join the omipresent, celebrity-studded "I Geek" billboards, sponsored by the Capital Area District Library’s "Geek the Library" campaign.)

“We’ve been working on this cultural economic development plan to support the growth of artistic and creative enterprise, and I think that we want to build awareness with not only people that live here but people that are visiting that we have quite an array of artistic talent,” Arts Council executive director Leslie Donaldson said.

“Sometimes we don’t realize that some of these artists are very talented and have exhibited all over the state and the country. We just want to help raise that awareness locally.”

Donaldson said the project, called “Art in the Sky,” allows people to view public art in a new way, as well as bringing increased exposure to the talent present in the Lansing area.

Besides Smith, the artists participating in the project are printmaker Linda Beeman, choreographer Diane Newman, painter Zahrah Resh and 3D mixed-media artist Janel Schultz.

Smith said that even in the short time the boards have been up, he has had several people come into his gallery in Okemos’ Meridian Mall to tell him they saw the image and it enticed them to come into his shop. He said the billboards are a way to showcase what Lansing does best.

“It’s one of the shining bright spots in the city,” he said. “The arts are the only growth sector in the Michigan economy, so you always bring out your best. The arts are thriving here, so I am happy to help bring attention to that.”

When the billboards are taken down, the artists will get to keep them. Smith said he had wondered what he was going to do with it. He even contemplated putting it on his flat roof, since he lives near the airport.

Then a friend told him about a program that uses material from billboards to create housing in impoverished areas in Africa. Smith plans to donate the billboard to that program when it is taken down.