Five art projects shaping Lansing’s art scene

Over the course of the last five years, Lansing’s art scene has experienced a coming-of-age, as art events and public displays of artwork have slowly but surely become part of the culture in the greater Lansing area. While there have been many projects by local artists and organizations that have surfaced, five art projects stand out, helping to shape Lansing’s art scene, giving it a voice of its own. 

#1: Old Town Mural 

Five artists, two coordinators, eight mentor volunteers/artists, and 25 teens – a total of 40 people was all it took to create the fun, funky mural that resides on the side of the building that houses the Arts Council of Greater Lansing at 1208 Turner St. in Lansing, Mi. 

“The inspiration came from Message Makers - who wanted a mural that featured over a dozen years of Jazz and Blues Fest posters to be a permanent backdrop display on the largest wall in Old Town,” says Joy Baldwin, program director of REACH Studio Art Center, who headed up this project. 

“The mural is located in the heart of the Old Town Arts District, on the corner of Turner and Grand River, surrounded by fine shopping, eateries, the fish ladder and the Riverwalk.” Featuring collaged work of many different local artists, this project proved to be a positive experience for both the working artists and the teens, who were being mentored by the professionals. 

“It is undoubtedly the largest and most colorful work of artwork in our city,” says Baldwin.  “We know the effects it has had on the community to due to the thanks of hundreds of people passing during its creation.” 

#2: Under the Bridge Project on Michigan Ave

Overpasses are commonly deemed an eyesore in most cities, but after the “Under the Bridge Project” was completed last year, the U.S. 127 overpass is now an art display rather than an eyesore. 

Local artist Brian Whitfield made the four, 50ft wide and 25ft tall, concrete spaces his canvases. These spaces mark the transition from the cities of Lansing to East Lansing, so the space acts as an artistic gateway into the two different communities. 

The murals, which show scenes of kids playing sports, families enjoying parks and neighborhoods, and more, reinforce the values that are central to the Lansing and East Lansing communities: diversity, education, activity and of course, creativity. Under the Bridge has become a bright space for passersby to look at and feel comfortable within. With the recent addition of LED lights, the overpass is now visible in the evening, while also creating a safer environment for those who walk that path. 

#3: Sign Language Installation along the River Walk 

In 2015, Lansing artist Ben Graham created an installation for ArtPrize Seven called Sign Language, a series of six, traditional directional signs that, instead of instructing traffic, instruct viewers with positive actions. Last year, the City of Lansing purchased the installation, giving it a permanent home along the banks of the Grand River, running through downtown Lansing. 
“The idea was, we’re not suggesting that people do these things, the street signs demand that you do them,” says Graham. The installation of the six signs runs from the Impression 5 museum to the area in front of the Lansing City Market. The installation is comprised of what looks like a stop sign, that says “smell the roses,” a caution sign that says, “aspire,” one that is shaped like a “no parking” sign but instead says, “no whining,” and a series of three, two-sided signs, each saying, “peace,” “&,” “love.” 

“For some reason, we follow these signs in our day-to-day life. These are positive and I want people to interact with them,” says Graham.  

#4: Portrait of a Dreamer

This past December, St. Johns artist, Ivan Iler installed an almost two-ton aluminum sculpture at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Museum Drive called “Portrait of a Dreamer.” Constructed from aluminum and steel, the massive sculpture is shaped as a human head, with gears that extend out from the forehead of the form, arching over the entrance to the museum district of Lansing. 

The interactive gears that extend from the sculpture’s forehead invite viewers to make them move by turning a crank that sits at the base of the sculpture. One of the reasons this art project is so influential to Lansing’s art scene is that it’s sheer size demands attention, a crucial step in placemaking initiatives; but along with demanding attention, it also publicly highlights Lansing’s devotion to increasing visibility of arts and creativity in the community. 

#5: Southwest Lansing Arts Impact Project 

While the Southwest Lansing Arts Impact Project isn’t yet finished, this soon-to-be installation will function as much more than a public art display. The whole concept behind this project is creating a “town square” area in Southwest Lansing. “The whole idea of this piece is to put a stake in the ground and say, ‘this area is important to Lansing,” says David Such, the designer of the art portion of the project. 

Such, owner of Render Studios, is partnering with Fred Hammond to design and create the art installation that will be placed in the ‘town center,’ green space. Currently, the designs aren’t final, as they are waiting on confirmation for the exact location it will be placed, but Such explains the piece will reflect what is important to the southwest Lansing community. Topics like family, diversity, welcoming, and aspirations will be at the forefront. The installation will be comprised of many large panels that people can interact with, and is expected to be completed in May 2018. 
“Art should be everywhere. It enhances, let’s people know that their community is cared about,” says Such. 

These five projects are a small sampling of the many artistic spaces and places existing in Greater Lansing, and we hope to see and highlight many more as they pop up over time as we continue to invest in arts and cultural efforts across the community. 


Megan Westers is a frequent contributor to Capital Gains.


Photos © Dave Trumpie


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

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