Reach for Community

These days, education is primarily viewed as a fundamental building block of career mobility, with an emphasis on pragmatic training. When someone’s child says, “I want to pursue a degree in art,” a common response is, “An art degree? What can you do with that?”
Enter Alice Brinkman, a lifelong devotee to the arts. In 2003, she opened the doors to Reach Studio Art Center on Washington Avenue in Lansing’s REO Town. Her mission is to bring art into the lives of children and adults.

Located at 1804 S. Washington Ave., Reach currently hosts many programs that are open to all community members. The studio offers "free, inter-generational, drop-in art-making sessions and classes in various visual art media held in a renovated old store front building, full of color and imagination." Brinkman's textile studio is located above the community studio.

“The word 'reach' is powerful,” says Brinkman. “It sort of sums up, in a way, that we’re using art to reach out to people. We see Reach as a place for kids to learn about art and also for them to be able to interface with artists other neighbors.”

Reach's Roots

The official opening was in 2003, but Reach’s roots go back much further. Brinkman, who has a master’s degree in textiles, got her first experience teaching art when her children were attending Moores Park Elementary School in REO Town. She taught art at the school on a voluntary basis.

Under Brinkman’s instruction, students performed puppet shows and engaged in various projects involving textiles and dyeing cloth. She soon became an after-school art teacher for a program called Art Smart, sponsored by the Lansing Art Gallery.

The seed had been planted, but she needed room to grow. The lack of space at the school meant that she needed a studio of her own, and thirteen years ago, Brinkman had her eye on a studio space near St. Casimir Church in Lansing.

But the plan to acquire the space fell through. And for eight years, Reach would have to be put on hold.  “At that time, my kids were still in school," says Brinkman. "I was still carting them back and forth to places, so in retrospect I think the timing was good. Back then, I was very disappointed that it fell through.”

Brinkman continued doing her art at home, but the urge to create a community art gallery would not subside. When her children reached college age, the time was right to take action. With the help of the REO Town Commercial Association, Brinkman was able to acquire the space that Reach now occupies.

Community Connections

Since its inception, Reach has hosted a number of different programs catering to all age groups in the community. Local artists are commissioned to instruct and proctor the classes.

Reach has built relationships with local schools, its relationship with Moores Park Elementary School being the oldest. Through an after-school program called Creative Connections, young, aspiring artists walk from Moores Park Elementary to the Reach studio, escorted by volunteers from Reach.

According to Moores Park Principal Mara Lud, participation has been very good. She says they “never have to worry about having enough students to go.”

According to Reach's web site, more than 700 youth and 250 adults made art at the studio in 2008 through programs like Creative Connections, Teen Studio, Open Clay Studio, Artreach Summer Day Camps and Workshops, Kids Clay and Artsmart classes, and Creative Tots for preschool art exploration. 140 young people came to Reach through other community service agencies that provide services for at-risk youth.

But what makes Reach a true community art center is its commitment to enriching the entire REO Town neighborhood through community art projects.

In 2005, thanks to a grant from the now defunct Association of Community Arts Agencies, Brinkman guided a street theater exhibition. Reach designed a gallery of gardens, which can still be seen across the street from the studio.

“The idea was kind of just to give some visual beauty to some spaces that, before we put that space up, [were] not nice to look at,” says Brinkman. Now, what was once a dank and decrepit corner is now colorful and aesthetically pleasing.

The studio is also holding its “Spring Thing” Annual Art Show and Ice Cream Social on Thursday, May 21. The program will showcase student work, and some the works will be available for purchase.

Skills of Art

"Art can be used for a lot of things," says Lud, a big supporter of the arts in schools. "It can stimulate their creativity. It can be a jump-off point for writing, for reading."

"Art is important in everyone’s life, but as young children that we get exposed to things that tend to be part of our lives from then on,” agrees David Torgoff, who holds a fine arts degree in ceramics from Michigan State University (MSU) and currently hosts Reach’s open clay studio, which is open to all ages.

Torgoff fondly recalls making clay ash trays in fifth grade art class—even though no one in his household smoked. "I think it teaches skills that they can apply to other things and then purely with some of the skills involved in art. It’s the mastery of any skill.”

Particularly important, he says, are critical thinking skills. Torgoff cites as an example a girl he aided during the open clay studio.

The girl was attempting to make a coiled pot. She wanted it to increase in circumference as it went up. Despite her best efforts, it grew smaller as its height increased. Torgoff suggested that she turn it over, and Voila! While the art piece turned out the way she wanted to, the child also learned basic problem-solving skills.

“Art just seems like a really cool tool to be able to give children—well, everybody, not just children—an opportunity to express themselves," says Brinkman. "A new way of solving their problems.”

Adam Molner is a freelance journalist who loves to fingerpaint. 

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


Alice Brinkman and her students at Reach Studio Art Center

All Photographs © Dave Trumpie

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