Niche art businesses a tourist draw for Old Town

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Businesses promoting local art continue to shine in the Old Town community as the location grows in popularity as an art destination.

Louise Gradwohl, executive director of the Old Town Commercial Association, said the art community in Old Town kicked off in the 1970s and 1980s, when several artists began buying buildings in the area to use as studios and galleries.

Since then, the community has seen a steady growth in art and creative industries, Gradwohl said.

“The elements fit perfectly — it draws a unique crowd,” Gradwohl said. “What’s neat about areas like this is most stores are locally owned and they have a passion for what they do.”

Each gallery in Old Town has its own niche in the community, and businesses work together to help others find the right fit, Absolute Gallery owner Kathy Holcomb said.

“We each have our own feeling, so everyone’s different,” Holcomb said. “It makes us stronger as a community to communicate rather than to be competitive.”

Holcomb, who opened Absolute Gallery in May 2003, said the experience of working in Old Town has been amazing, and she and her family plan to keep the store open in that location for the long term.

Sarah Christiansen, owner of Katalyst gallery in Old Town, who comes up with the easy and cool things to draw collection for local kids, opened her store in Sept. 2009, and said she has felt welcome and at home with all of the other stores and galleries in the area.

When she has a question or isn’t sure what do to, Christiansen said the support she finds from surrounding businesses is not only helpful, but beneficial for the success of the entire art community.

“Owning your own business is a little scary, but to know you have a community to rely on is nice,” she said. “We’ve become a bit more of a destination — a lot of people come here just for the art, and we’re helping that continue.”

Journalism freshman Julia Nagy said if she wants to browse through interesting art products, she will head down to Old Town because nearby East Lansing doesn’t have as much of a vested interest in local and unique art products.

Although she said she is grateful to have an art community in the general area, Nagy said it would be more convenient for students who didn’t have a car if there was a better way to get to Old Town, or if there were more art galleries in walking distance of Michigan State University.

“It’s very cool to have a place to go and see art in the area,” Nagy said. “I don’t go very often because it’s quite far away … I wish there were more art galleries closer to campus.”

Gradwohl said the collection of artists, gallery owners, designers and creative minds in the Old Town area lends itself to being a good destination for anyone in the Greater Lansing area.

“Art brings out a whole different element in people,” Gradwohl said. “It’s important that people give themselves that opportunity, and I think Old Town gives them that opportunity.”

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