ArtSensical finds ways to paint the town and create colorfully

Used tires reborn as whimsical art work is just one of the projects ArtSensical has going around the region. Jane Parikh talks with the organizers to find out about art for all the senses going up in public places.
ArtSensical sounds whimsical, but it’s an initiative that’s based in the intentional.

The intention is to captivate the senses while at the same time inspiring the community it get creative with displays of public art.

“ArtSensical is a dynamic collaborative based in Battle Creek, that supports creating more public art, community building, tourism, and economic development throughout Calhoun County,” says Michelle Frank, facilitator of the project. “It is a catalyst for co-design and creation of place-making art that captivates all our senses.”

Frank says visitors to the various art displays can expect to see vibrant, playful and eye-opening murals, exhibits, "green sculptures." The collaborative also puts on special events and performances throughout the area.

Very little time elapsed between the announcement of the project two years ago and the creation and installation of art throughout Calhoun County. The majority of the pieces are totems located in places such as the Art Center of Battle Creek, a community garden on North Avenue, and Homer Middle School.

One project that went up was “You Are What You Eat”, a painted canvas wrapped around a tire-totem that featured almost 200 different types of fruits and vegetables, and depicting three drummers and a hound dog--creating music with their food.

There are eight totems with more planned, says  Kimber Thompson, director of marketing for the Calhoun County Visitors Bureau. Thompson, who is also an artist, says she, Michelle Frank and Sabine LeDieu, a Marshall-based artist, created the ArtSensical project.

The totems, LeDieu says, are a good use of old tires. The goal is to have about 100 themed totems throughout the county.

“I think a lot of people are seeing them and commenting on them,” she says.

While creating art out of old tires may be daunting to some, the founders of ArtSensical want residents to take the spirit behind the initiative and come up with their own art displays.

“We’d like to see the community grasp it and make their own art to beautify their own communities,” LeDieu says. “It’s very accessible, cheap, and doable.”

Thompson says she and her other ArtSensical founders came up with the name for the initiative because they incorporate all types of art that appeal to all of the senses: traditional painting, music, taste (food/gardens), textures of fabrics appeal to the sense of touch and some exhibits even appeal to the sense of smell.

Current ArtSensical partners include Architecture + design, Inc., Art Center of Battle Creek, BC Pulse, Battle Creek Downtown Partnership, Battle Creek Shopper News, Calhoun County, Calhoun County Arts Council, Calhoun County Visitors Bureau, City of Battle Creek; Humane Society of South Central Michigan, Kingman Museum, Leila Arboretum Society, Music Center, The Mylestone Project, Nonprofit Alliance; Public Works of Art and Scene Magazine.

So far, ArtSensical has been supported with seed money from The Battle Creek Community Foundation through its “Livable Communities” grant; grants from the former Calhoun County Arts Council; and the Community Foundation Alliance of Calhoun County; Art Center of Battle Creek; as well as small businesses and individuals. Frank says this funding totals about $10,000 so far.

“We weren’t really chasing money,” says  Frank, Principal Consultant, Experience Counts--A Search, Consulting & Project Management Firm. "We just wanted to see more public art in our region.”

Not all of the projects will be art-related. The Art Center is planning to have an exhibit about recycling and a kinetic exhibit which uses all of the senses. Frank says this type of tactile exhibit will be especially good for people on the autism spectrum as well those with dementia.

And when it comes to art, there's much more than tire totems, too.

The city’s Downtown Partnership will be doing a mural in Friendship Park. The Humane Society of South Central Michigan is planning a large-scale project on its property, and the Kingman Museum will have a frog-themed totem.

LeDieu says she will continue to focus on art made from garbage and recyclable materials. She installed a large sculpture in front of Harper Creek Middle School called “Plastic Ocean” which is a giant world made of recycled steel and filled with empty plastic bottles.

“I work in garbage, literally. Everything I do is environmentally focused to raise awareness of environmental issue, and hopefully, bring action,” LeDieu says. “I guess I got my passion from caring too much. This is my way of bringing my talent to make a difference.“

Plans are in the works for people to take guided tours of the art using their Smartphones. They will be able to access information about the piece they are looking at, its purpose, and the artist who created it.

A major ArtSensical place-making project is being planned for June 13-20, 2015 at Leila Arboretum. The first-ever Battle Creek’s Fantasy Forest will feature artists armed with chainsaws, paintbrushes, pottery shards, and other media who will turn dead trees into works of art. The trees were destroyed by the Emerald Ash Borer.

“Plans were quickly put into place to cut the trees down, but then we decided to turn the trunks into treasures with a unique art competition,” Thompson says.

Sixteen juried finalists will receive $500 each to come to Battle Creek to bring their creative vision to life. They will have seven-and-a-half days to transform their designated tree into a work of art and the public will be able to watch the process. On June 20, 2015, the Top 3 artists will be announced and win a $5,000 Juried Grand Prize; $3,000 Juried 2nd Place Prize; and $1,000 People’s Choice Award.

“Traverse City has cherries and Grand Rapids has ArtPrize and this was a chance to literally have the community decide what they care about in our community and their neighborhoods,” Thompson says.

“It’s a little more vibrant and engages less traditional artists. All that we planned has not been realized yet, but we are continually working on incorporating new ventures as they are dreamed up and completed.”

Jane C. Parikh is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 20 years of experience and also is the owner of In So Many Words based in Battle Creek.

Photos by Susan Andress

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