Whether you are passing or just stopping by, the first couple of things you may notice are all the beautiful and unique art pieces displayed that ultimately shows what Old Town is all about.
When Old Town was revitalized in the late 80’s and early 90’s, there were a lot of empty buildings being bought by artists that would use them for studios, media studios, and professional art galleries. It has been the type of area where creative businesses have made it their home, according to Sarah Christiansen, Old Town Commercial Association board member and owner of Katalyst Gallery and Gift Boutique.
Dawn Gorman is the communications and events manager at the Arts Council of Greater Lansing, discussed how Old Town became an art district along with how each sculpture, mural, and any piece of art is made.
“When Old Town first started out, the main people that were doing stuff in the area were artists,” said Gorman. “It was tough finding ways to perform and do art with buildings that were not even functioning at the time.”
Robert Busby and Terry Terry in the beginning worked together by bringing in a lot of music to the area. As a result there have been numerous festivals and events that bring more art towards the area. Old Town has always been considered an arts community, which is so significant because it just builds on that kind of history that has always been in Old Town, according to Gorman.
“A lot of the sculptures that are around now are from ScrapFest, which is a festival that Old Town hosts every year and those pieces of art,” said Gorman. “Artists collect scrap metal from Friedland Industries, which is located in Old Town as well. They have a certain amount of time to make their sculptures and once finished they are displayed all throughout Old Town for people to vote to see some of these sculptures displayed throughout the area.”
People vote on which sculptures are the best and eventually auctioned off at the end. Many of the sculptures you see throughout Old Town have been purchased by some of these businesses or have been donated to display, according to Gorman.
Many of the art pieces are organic and reflective and have a lot of emotions that you feel when you look at them. Preuss Pets is trying to build excitement surrounding the under water world and nature, according to Rick Preuss, owner of Preuss Pets.
“The beautiful mural on the wall next to the Arts Council of Greater Lansing represents jazz and music festivals that Old Town is known for,” said Preuss. “It usually depends on who is putting the piece up or designing it and what message they are trying to send to the viewers. All of those murals are going to represent something in this area.”
Public art serves several purposes in a community. It can help to commemorate people and events such as statues and monuments or it can create a landmark. Public art allows it to embellish in a public space and give work to artists, according to Raphael Fischler, professor at McGill University and an expert in urban planning and neighborhood development.
Public art brings people together, but it can also become controversial. It makes people think about art and its place in society, according to the urban planning expert.
Maggie Vance and Andrea Kerbuski discussed what public art meant to them and if public art is necessary in Old Town.
Public art anywhere is good because improving the aesthetic of a space is beneficial to the surrounding community. Public art is art that is enjoyed by everyone as there is not a class division because it is easily accessible and not separated for viewing by a fancy gallery, according to Vance.
“I love the new murals, they liven up the neighborhood, but some of the art like the sculptures took a little old and tired,” said Kerbuski. “Old Town could use more public art to enhance the area and could help bring more people to the area. Pretty much more art and more variety of art would liven up Old Town.”
Some people may object to public spending on art when there are so many pressing social needs and some people may object to the choice of subject, such as a controversial statue of a historical figure. Some people object to the aesthetics of the piece, while some people object to the decision-making process, according to Fischler.
Many states or cities have programs that promote public art. In Quebec, all projects that receive public funding must have an artwork integrated in them, in the form of a sculpture, mural or other form, according to Fischler.
“The goals of the policy are to diffuse art in cities and regions and expose the population to art, to make art an integral part of the built environment, and to give work to professional artists,” Fischler said.
Michigan Institute for Contemporary Art worked with Reach Studio Art Center, which is a local youth center full of student artists to make the beautiful mural near the center of Old Town, according to Gorman.
“Old Town is on the path of continuing to find new ways of incorporating art in any shape, way, or form we can,” said Gorman. “The Arts Council of Greater Lansing has memberships and agencies to support our art organizations in the tri-county. Really focusing on the arts in this community is a big thing.”
One of things the Arts Council is really involved in is called creative placemaking, where art is at the center of making a place what it is. It is something you can be guaranteed to see here as people expect to see art here along with the galleries around the neighborhood, according to Gorman.
Matt Penninman, writer and communication strategist at Message Makers, has created an application for apple users called 517 Art Search. Since there are so many unique and different pieces in the area, this application allows users to find public art and learn more about it.
“Our goal was to give people an easy entry to see what public art pieces are near them and who created them,” said Penninman. “Wherever you are located, it will find public art near you.”
Kathy Holcomb, owner of Absolute Gallery, discussed if she could design any piece of art for Old Town, it would be something big and dramatic that can photograph well because people that frequently visit Old Town love taking pictures of all the pieces here.
“Anywhere near the center of town such as the traffic light would be a prime spot for public art because it seems to be the heart of Old Town,” Holcomb said.
There is an annual event called Chalk of the Town on June 3, where artists can submit their work and if chosen they will create huge pieces of chalk art that numerous amounts of people will see and will vote on to possibly have a piece of chalk art placed in Old Town.