Artists "Attack" REO Town

REO Town is working to redefine itself. And not in the way you might think. It may well be on its way to becoming Lansing’s future artistic district. To celebrate this natural shift from industrial to creative, artists, musicians and residents in the Capital region came out to enjoy the inaugural Art Attack! Festival. The bonus: watching artists create before your very eyes.

The purpose of the Art Attack! Festival, which took place on Saturday, September 24, from noon to 8:00 p.m., was to promote REO Town while raising money for local art and artists. Artists were given four hours to create their works on-site and in full view of the public. Jurors scored the works which were then auctioned off, with a portion of the proceeds going to benefit Art Alley, a non-traditional, nonprofit art gallery located at 1133 South Washington.

Art and Communication

There were fewer artists participating in the festival than expected, but those talked with were friendly, likable and articulate. James Groves, a mixed media artist who helped organize the event and also works at the Tattoo Shop at 2615 East Michigan Avenue, said the colorful mannequin he painted was a self-portrait even though it was female. “It’s showing that the things which are within are not always exactly as represented on the outside,” he explains. The mannequin represented a number of other projects he’s worked on, with different techniques, “all pulled together into one cohesive thing.”

“All art is a form of communication, the same as sound and written word,” he went on. “Tattoos are also a form of communication – I get to learn something about the people who come in and the way they think is revealed in these connections.”

This was clearly not an art exhibition for stuffy classicists.

There was live music, too, by P.H.I.L.T.H.Y., LYRIC’ LEE, Ben Keeler and the 500 Club, The Sunset Club, Way to Fall, and Gary Cimmerer and the Full Velvet Band. Paul Holland, who organized the vendors – which included people selling fiber art, jewelry and yarn – said the event was intended to “support local artists and draw people to REO Town, which is on the cusp of revitalization.”

Art Impacting REO Town

“We’re trying to market REO Town as a place where people don’t just go to buy art, but to create it,” he explains. “The only reason the Art Attack! idea succeeded is because of collaborations and partnerships." Holland, a West Michigan transplant whose mother was one of the exhibiting artists, estimated that 500 people had already visited Art Attack! by 4:00 p.m. – “a good number considering it’s a first-time event taking place a little late in the season.”

Ryan Wert, another organizer who serves as treasurer of the REO Town Commercial Association and owns Elm Street Recording in Reo Town, adds, “We want to focus attention on how creative young professionals and artists are moving into the area. It doesn’t get a lot of foot traffic but there’s a lot of growth happening here.”

Wert, who organized Art Attack!’s music component and helped transport and assemble a large stage for the bands, was also pleased with the turnout, “given the weather, which wasn’t bad but looked like it might be.”

Expressive Local Talent

Another participating artist, June Bang, a high school student from Okemos, thought the event was “really unique and fun. It’s really cool that all these local artists talk to each other and support each other.” 

“The music was fun and it was interesting to see the different artwork, including the children’s art from Reach Studio Art Center,” says Anita Singh, a Holt resident who visited Art Attack! with her mother-in-law and four kids. “I had never seen anybody paint on a mannequin before.”

The last artist interviewed, Sam deBourbon, was busy spray-painting vivid colors and bold shapes onto a canvas. He wasn’t competing in the showdown – he arrived too late because he was painting a garage door for a friend – but he felt compelled to create nonetheless. A graffiti artist with a quick wit and a ready smile, deBourbon was willing to part with his art for a pittance. (deBourbon was one of the driving forces – along with Ingham County Treasurer Eric Schertzing, another Art Attack sponsor, and Joe Manzella from Lansing Economic Area Partnership – behind the effort in the summer of 2010 to beautify the seedy Deluxe Inn at the corner of Main Street and South Washington with graffiti prior to its demolition.) 

Hot Diggity Dog

Mark McGee, proprietor of Mark’s Hot Diggity Dog Stand, says he was there to support REO Town. McGee, who operates hot dog carts in Eaton Rapids and Charlotte, said he sold enough hot dogs at Art Attack! to make his participation worthwhile. “This is awesome. I love the people who are out here.”  

There was a lot of good energy and interesting art at Discount Dave’s old site on Saturday. Not only is REO Town the birthplace of the automobile in the United States, it’s now the home of a cool and unique art festival in the Great Lake State.

Patrick Diehl is a freelance writer for Capital Gains.

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


James Groves in his studio

Artist June Bang

Ryan Wert with Elm Street Recording

Art Alley

James Groves

Sam deBourbon

Photos © Dave Trumpie
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