Revolution Begins in the Basement


Walking by Basement 414, you wouldn’t even know it was there. But, lurking in the dark alley beneath the Nuthouse Sports Grill, lies the front line of a cultural revolution.

The property, formerly vacant, has been transformed from a dank basement into a shining art gallery by a group of Lansing residents and former Michigan State University (MSU) students. The studio, also known as Basement 414, only opened in August 2007. But it’s quickly becoming the place to go in the art community.

Art Revolution

“At first it was more of a place where people could show their art without having to go through the grueling application and waiting process that you normally have to wait to get into a gallery,” says 26-year-old Kaern Shinaver.

Shinaver says that for an artist’s work to appear in a typical gallery, the artist must first fill out an application, write a lengthy artist’s statement and then wait a year to find out if their work will appear in the gallery. Of course, that's only if the gallery is accepting new artists; many aren’t.

Instead, Shinaver and her friends decided to start their own gallery. The group began meeting in diners and coffee shops to discuss what the space would look like and what they would call it.

Many names were proposed, most were ridiculed. Those I spoke to were only able to recall one of the rejected names: L.ART. (Lansing Art. Get it?)

The group eventually decided on Capital Area Spectacle, or CaSpect for short. The name has roots in The Society of The Spectacle, a book by French Marxist theorist Guy Debord. While it was not love at first listen, they name eventually grew on everyone.

“I was kind of against the name at first because I don’t want to have us flagged as commies,” says Russell Arthur Bauer, 24, one of the founding members of Capital Area Spectacle. "But no one would make that connection besides art historians,"

At first, CaSpect held sporadic art shows in the Basement. Since then, they've expanded. The venue now features a very full schedule: Tuesday nights feature an open mic night; Thursday is movie night; bands play every weekend.

Recently, they added theater to the schedule, too. The Peppermint Creek Theatre Company puts on shows at the Basement, along with other venues like the Creole Gallery in Old Town.    

Community Endeavor

Basement 414 is a very busy place. Bands have to be booked. Fliers have to be made and distributed. Art has to be hung. The list goes on.

It’s a lot of work for CaSpect’s founders. That's where their growing sea of disciples comes in. Many people who were not there in the very beginning have since signed on to contribute.

One of those people is Andy McFarland, who has lived in Lansing for the last 20 years and graduated from MSU in 2001. He had his first taste of CaSpect when a co-worker invited him to check things out.

He saw how the Basement was working to become Lansing’s cultural hub and decided he wanted in.

But he’d been fooled before. Was this the real deal? He decided it was.

“Lots of coffee shops try to do it, but they’re usually coming at it from the angle of wanting to sell more coffee," say McFarland. "Maybe there will be a cover at the door and things like that."

At the Basement, you won’t find a cover at the door. But donations are accepted. And the CaSpect crew works tirelessly to build up the venue, which has become a refuge for Lansing’s more avant-garde.

“I really like the fact that you get to decide your own level of involvement,” says McFarland, whose own commitment is fairly intense. “I work 80 hours a week. I have somewhere between four and six jobs, depending on how technical you want to be. I take classes. I have a lot of things to do.”

In spite of this, he dedicates at least 15 hours a week to the Basement (and it’s usually closer to 30). He does a lot of the flier designs and printing and distribution and books a lot of the bands.

Bauer, who has been around since the Basement project began, still puts in lots of time, too. Recently, he put in a six-hour day installing the new track lighting, which he paid for out of pocket. When there is a show coming up, it is not uncommon for him to put in 30-40 hour weeks.

“It’s like a full-time job sometimes,” he says.

CaSpect's basement operation is not a traditional music venue, either. Rather than charge a cover and give bands a percentage of the ticket sales, the Basement operates solely on donations, and bands receive a portion of the donations to cover their transportation costs.

“None of the bands I’ve talked to yet cared at all,” says McFarland.

Although most of the bands are from the Lansing area, some bands make quite a trek to play at the Basement. Some acts travel from places as far as New York and New Jersey.

Putting Down Roots

At a time when the national recession has hit Michigan particularly hard, some folks have started to think about relocating. But those involved with CaSpect say they have made a reason to stay in Lansing.

While Shinaver says that she enjoys living in Lansing, the Basement has given her another reason to stay. Bauer, who recently bought a home in Lansing, cites the Basement as his sole reason for remaining in the area.

McFarland himself has been contemplating a move out West. “I wouldn’t be able to do that until at least February or March anyway," he says. "But there are a few things that make me want to stay in Lansing, and this is definitely one of them.”

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Adam Molner is a freelance journalist. 

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



Photos:

Scenes from a Basement 414 art show opening, including artist Xavier with his version of American Gothic

All Photographs © Dave Trumpie

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