Old Town brings Lansing community together through art

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By Ryan Squanda
The Lansing Star

Lansing — It’s a Sunday afternoon on Turner Street in Lansing, Michigan – Old Town as the area is more commonly referred to – and about a half dozen people are sweeping the streets and packing up.

“It’s cleanup time,” says Terry Terry, referring to the fact that just 15 hours earlier the streets were flooded with thousands of people and musicians for Blues Fest – just one of the area’s many festivals.

Artists and musicians flock to Old Town for a number of reasons, including this one, seen playing at the 2012 Blues Fest. (Photo by Ryan Squanda)

Artists and musicians flock to Old Town for a number of reasons, including this one, seen playing at the 2012 Blues Fest. (Photo by Ryan Squanda)

Terry’s been around Old Town for over 30 years. As president of two organizations in the area: MessageMakers, an event planning and PR company and the Michigan Institute for Contemporary Art (MICA) — Terry has been a catalyst in morphing Old Town into what it is today, where many of the unique restaurants, shops and art draw people in from all over Lansing’s metropolitan area.

But 30 years ago? Not so much.

“It was a ghost town when I moved in,” Terry said, explaining how he and a bunch of fellow artists got together to open art galleries in addition to getting a plethora of music and art festivals off the ground – many of which still run today, including Oktoberfest, Jazz Festival and Blues Fest.

“It wasn’t even called Old Town when I moved in,” Terry went on to say. “We came up with the name and it caught on and now there’s a half of dozen or more (businesses) with Old Town in their name. It’s transformed from just boarded up buildings to a vibrant, dynamic area that’s pretty hip. People come here for all kinds of things and it’s helped revitalize Lansing so it’s great to be part of that.”

And with the formation of MICA, which Terry co-founded in 1984, Old Town has grown into a sort of Mecca of Michigan for those with a fascination for the arts, but has also increased overall involvement from those in the community.

Take Bob Titus, who got involved by volunteering at an event three years ago when his daughter was up and coming on the art scene. Titus has never looked back, becoming a regular in the behind-the-scenes work that goes into putting on some of Old Town’s events.

“I started doing the setting up and taking down and the building so that kind of fit what I know what to do,” said Titus, a construction worker by trade. “It’s satisfying to be able to build something and see it work and see it happen and everybody is having a good time and when you get done and take it down… it’s back to a city street again.”

As the cleanup process continues, it’s clear there’s never a dull moment in creativity in Old Town.

In walks Larry Ackerman, president of the Lansing Poetry Club, which is set to meet in the MICA building in about an hour.

“I got a poem for you, Terry. It’s about blues!” Ackerman says, still feeding off the excitement from the weekend’s Blues Fest.

Work brought Ackerman to Lansing nearly 15 years ago, and after a short time living near the campus of Michigan State University, Ackerman made his way to Old Town.

“I moved to Lansing and decided this is the place for my wife and I to be,” Ackerman said, a lover of the arts who prides himself in the fact he’s written well over 3,000 haikus. “This is the place to be to interact with creative people.”

Certainly something the artists who flocked to Old Town 30 years ago would like to hear.

“Basically our mission is to improve the community,” Terry said. “All of our events are designed for people to meet old friends and make new friends and have conversations about how we can make it better here. The events get people to move around and meet and also to explore and see what’s going on in Old Town.”

“All the dancing, smiling faces, people having a good time…You get 5,000 people out in the street partying. It’s pretty cool.”

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