The Art of the Public

Remember the colorful, miniature cars displayed and auctioned off in Downtown Lansing a few years ago? How about the giant fish constructed with recycled materials at the Holt Farmers Market on Cedar Street?

In the concrete jungle of larger cities, where uniformity reigns, public art provides visual interest and pleasure as well as a much-needed dose of liveliness to uninspiring areas. It also invites residents and guests to visit and engage in the community.

In the Capital region, too, public art is all over the place, offering inspiration and community-building character.

“The mural brightens the area up, and invites people to walk down and take a look," says Lansing mural artist, Erika Magers. "It sends the message that the area deserves people to care about it enough to invest a piece of public art.”

Building Community

Community involvement is part of the intention behind public art. It aids in developing a neighborhood identity and bond; it engages the community and invites people to experience something together.

While neighbors may share a common bond of living in the same neighborhood, having something as unique as a piece of public art displayed on the side of a building or around the corner from their house gives them an added sense of community pride and a connection to one another.

“It brings people together to complete a common goal, something that is important for community building,” says Mager.

Old Town Commercial Association (OTCA), Friedland Industries and area artists just finished Scrapfest, a new competition where artists have one hour to find recycled scrap materials from Friedland Industries, and one week to turn that scrap into a masterpiece.

The sculptures were displayed, judged and auctioned off at Festival of the Moon in June.

“We need art,” says local artist Juanita Baldwin.

Along with Okemos artist Gretchen Foster, Baldwin co-founded a group that displays artwork year round at a variety of businesses. She’s had pieces at the Clark Hill Law firm in Old Town and the Mid-Michigan Art Guild building.

“We need to walk by a street and stop, look, observe and enjoy the pieces available to the community," she says. "People that go to a medical building need something interesting, uplifting— something to make their minds wander beyond their problems and their soul rejoice when they look at a painting.”

Baldwin recently added five pieces to the Technology Innovation Center (TIC) in East Lansing. Jeff Smith, with the City of East Lansing’s Planning and Community Development department, says the artwork complements the existing creative space.

“The culture of entrepreneurship certainly includes and involves artists,” Smith says. “The atmosphere inside the Innovation Center is very creative to begin with. Artwork in the hallways compliments the space and the program very well.”

Planning for Art

“There is a strong pull for public art in Old Town," says Brittney Hoszkiw of the Old Town Commercial Association, "because the community has been given the opportunity to define the vision of their own neighborhood.”

The timing couldn’t be better, because Lansing is working on updating its Master Plan—the old one doesn't figure public art into the equation at all.

“It's my hope that we can figure out a funding mechanism and a process for the use of public art to enhance the community and the quality of life for those who live there," says Leslie Donaldson, who directs of the Arts Council of Greater Lansing. “There is an increase in awareness and understanding of the role that public art plays in the quality of life.”

The public certainly wants more public art. We recently asked Capital Gains readers to suggest areas in the city that could benefit from public art. One contributor suggested three areas — South Lansing where Pennsylvania and Cedar meet, Logan Square and Frandor.

Other locales that topped the list include the Downtown Lansing Riverwalk, Hunter Park, Washington Square, US-127, the Lansing City Market and the Capitol lawn.

Not only does art add to the quality of life, but an estimate from Americans for the Arts suggests that the arts employ at least 750 direct full-time jobs and impact more than 1,700 more in the Greater Lansing region.

While art certainly adds to the image and economy of a community, arts funding is in peril and often left at the mercy of local governments, citizens and private investors.

East Lansing sets aside roughly $15,400 a year for public art over the course of the past 10 years, according to Ami Van Antwerp with the City of East Lansing.

“The grant helps provide some financial support so that some of the expenses in mounting this exhibit can be covered. In this difficult economic time, the grant provides such tremendous help,” says local artist Zahrah Resh, who believes public art “allows the rich or poor, the sophisticated and the not, the ordinary, everyday people like you and me to enjoy, enrich and be challenged in our thoughts and our ways.”

Resh plans to use a grant to construct a public art exhibit in Olivet. “Art can inspire hope, creativity and even provoke positive actions and change," she says. "This, in turn, also helps a community to grow and expand in many ways.”

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Tara Adams is a freelance writer for Capital Gains and thinks finger painting is a great pastime. 

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


Familiar Faces by Louise McCagg in East Lansing

Erika Magers with her Old Town mural

Sculpture “Tut-Tut” by Jack Bergeron on LCC's campus

John Neering's sculpture in East Lansing's Valley Court Park

Zahrah Resh in her gallery

A public paint project mural designed by Barb Hranilovich in Old Town 

All Photographs © Dave Trumpie

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