Cultivating Art in Lansing

On a wall on the third floor of 1305 South Cedar Street, a sign reads "Artist? Need space? Talk to Ben." The space is an art studio, 4th Culture Studios in the John Bean Building to be exact. And Ben is Ben Duke, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Art & Art History at Michigan State University.
“[It’s] a new space in Lansing, which is an artist work space,” says Duke of 4th Culture Studios. “I felt there was a lack of a space like this in Lansing,” Duke says of his inspiration to start up the studio. “And I wanted to really be part of a vibrant artist community, and since I couldn’t find one, I’m trying to make one.”
The 4th Culture

The studio takes up a portion of the third floor in the John Bean Building. With the high ceilings and an open floor plan, it is an ideal location for an artist’s studio. Walls have been put up to divide the floor into work areas and gallery spaces. The exposed brick, old fixtures and carry-overs from the building’s previous tenants add a bit of “garage band” charm to the space. Plus, there is no brand new carpet begging to be the target of spilled paint.
Duke has been “Trying to be an artist for the past eleven years,” and has been teaching at MSU for the past five. On the origin of the studio’s name, Duke says, “You have culture, and then you have counter-culture, and then you have the reactionaries, and then you have us.” Despite being a professor at MSU, Duke says the studio is not affiliated with the university or any other institution. “We’re just independent, working artists.”
Some of Duke’s own art graces the walls in the studio. He mainly paints with oils on large canvases. But, various works of art fill the space, including sculptures, mixed media and photography. “Right now we have ten people in the space that are working,” says Duke,  “And we have four spaces available. The studios are rented out individually, and there are various prices, ranging from $85 a month to $300, depending on size.”
On choosing the John Bean Building, Duke says “When I went looking for a studio, I tried to look ahead far enough to find a space where I could do something like this.” Even after finding a space, there was plenty of work to do to prepare the studio, “It took a lot [of work] because I did all of the build-out.” Duke divided up one large space into individual artist studios.
Art in Focus

Two of Ben’s artists are James Groves and Marissa Tawney Thaler. Each has their own space in 4th Culture Studios, where they can work on their respective projects or even socialize with other artists. The studio gives them a space to focus on their art.
Groves has also been involved with Art Attack! in REO Town’s Art Alley. “I’ve been making this stuff for years, and just keep doing it for some reason,” says Groves. “I’m at the point where I’m just getting more and more interested in it, so it’s like a hobby that is getting out of control.” Groves tattoos for a living at the Tattoo Shop, and has no shortage of artistic aspirations. “This is how I’ve always occupied my time. Now I’ve moved into the studio and just started doing it bigger.”
Groves has been in the building since last April, and while he originally planned on renting a smaller space, he changed his mind. “It’s cool, it’s an excuse to [work] bigger and explore more with [my art and the space].” The tattoo artist came across a listing for the studio space on Craigslist, “I was looking for studio space, and I had looked at a couple different places, and this was the only one that made sense.”
Right Space At The Right Time

One perk artists have at 4th Culture: they can work on their own schedule, since inspiration does not always strike during the normal business hours of 9 to 5. “I have 24-hour access to this place. So I can come and go as I please,” says Groves.
Tawney Thaler, an elementary art teacher for Waverly Schools, learned about 4th Culture Studios in a more ‘analogue’ way. “I saw an ad with a tear-off sheet on a store window,” she says. “I ripped it off, waited a couple of weeks, and gave [Ben] a call. He said he was still renting studios out. I came and just fell in love with the space right away.”
Tawney Thaler’s husband is a graduate student at MSU and the couple moved to Lansing about three years ago. While her usual medium of choice is drawing, Tawney Thaler says she also experiments. “Right now I’m doing some paper collage, and charcoal and pen and ink.”
When a different space opened up, Tawney Thaler, who has been in the building three months, jumped at the chance to switch, “[Ben] asked if I wanted to switch, and I said 'absolutely.'” While she was happy with her previous space, Tawney Thaler savors her new studio, “The area, the exposed brick, the flooring and the window—you can’t help but be inspired in that space. It’s so raw.”
On Lansing’s art community, Tawney Thaler said, “I think it’s good. Some of the more progressive stuff is a bit understated or underground, and it’s hard to find. When we moved here, it took me a while to dig into the community, and when I did, it was more traditional pieces.” She was happy to see more contemporary works at 4th Culture, and hopes the studio, and its roster of artists, will contribute to the rise of progressive art in Lansing.

Daniel J. Hogan is a freelance writer and the Geek half of Ginger and the Geek. You can follow him on Twitter, @danieljhogan.

Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.


Ben Duke

4th Culture Studios

Artist Santiago Pineda

Artist Atif Khan in his studio at 4th Culture Studios

Open spaces in the studio

Marissa Tawney Thaler

The kiln room

Photos © Dave Trumpie
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