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Painting for a cause

Railroad underpass gets new look


Father Tony Willis helps his songs Ashton and Austin paint the bridge.
Photo by Kelly Sheridan

This past weekend, Lansing residents tapped into their creative side as they set out to give the railroad overpass on Pennsylvania Avenue a new look as a part of the Penn4People event. Taking place on a near-perfect fall day, right by Potter Park Zoo, the event allowed residents to assist local artists in painting a mural on piece of infrastructure in attempts to help beautify Lansing.

The project was created in partnership with the Lansing Economic Area Partnership’s ENGAGE program. The City of Lansing’s Neighborhood Resource Coordinator Andi Crawford said the program’s goal was to unite the neighborhoods in the surrounding areas.

“The neighborhoods have really been coming together to talk about what can be done to connect their neighborhoods,” Crawford said. “Our corridors are often times not the most attractive parts of our city. We have beautiful neighborhoods and sometimes our corridors aren’t reflective of that, Pennsylvania [Avenue] is kind of an example.”

The preparation for the resurfacing began three weeks ago with a community litter pick up, and then artists Tracie Davis and Diane Harte from Tiny by Design were able to prep the wall and create a paint-by-number mural, inspired by the animals in Potter Park Zoo, so anyone could participate, even if they don’t have the experience.

“This is purely designed for community members,” Crawford said. “We have lots of artists here because they're really interested in art and want to participate. But its designed so that any neighborhood person can come in, meet their neighbors, talk to some people they know, and turn something that was really unattractive into a really beautiful feature.”

One of those community members was Sycamore Park resident Nicole Martin and her 8-year-old son Jack, who wanted to participate in this because of the lasting effect it will have on the community.

“We drive under this underpass multiple times a day, and so when we heard about this, (Jack) really wanted to contribute to be a part of it, so every day when we drive past he can kind of say, ‘Hey, I helped do that,’” Martin said.

Throughout the day, over 50 people participated in the event, and many shared the same sentiment. Resident and father Tony Willis is a great example of that. He said it was a great way to engage the community while simultaneously benefitting it.

“For us, it’s a good way to spend a Sunday afternoon to help support the community, and it’s good to help make a lasting impression,” Willis said. “A lot of things get dilapidated over time, and funding is always tight with other municipality structures, so it’s always good to have this type of event to help revitalize and show new life to the old structures.”

There were even some participants from Michigan State University, including Alexandra Grabowski, who signed up simply because of her love for painting, but saw the impact this event could have on a community.

“I think it’s just nice to make the community look a lot more beautiful, and to do stuff as a group is just cool.”

Penn4PEople is the third project this year for LEAP’s ENGAGE program, behind Keys in the Cities in Charlotte, and the “Sign Language” art piece installed along the Lansing River Trail. The program is designed to assist communities in advance platemaking projects identified by residents and leaders and Crawford believes these types of projects will be the ones to really make a difference within Lansing.

“Were really starting to think about these big huge infrastructure pieces differently and really using that as an opportunity to beautify the area. Even if we can’t do things like replace the bridge or change it structurally, we can do things to get it cleaned up and beautify it,” Crawford said. “So, we’ll be looking for different projects in the city and theres definitely a lot of interest in it.”


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