Intergenerational mosaic brings community together

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By Danielle Chesney
Entirely East Lansing

EAST LANSING – Every Thursday after school, Kelly Arndt ushers seniors from the Prime Time Senior Program to MacDonald Middle School to work with Visual Arts Teacher Lauren Engler and her Art Club students on two panels of an intergenerational mosaic. The collaborative project has kept the groups busy since November, but their hard work will create an enduring art piece for the entire East Lansing community to enjoy.

Mural 2015

Photo of the intergenerational mosaic to be hung in Division Street alley. Photo provided by Lauren Engler.

Arndt and Engler hatched the idea for the mosaic in June after last year’s mosaic project in honor of Matt Epling, said Engler. Engler said Arndt had heard about Epling’s mosaic, facilitated by Engler, at the East Lansing Art Festival, and contacted her about creating another mosaic incorporating multiple generations. They involved Special Education Teacher Amanda Moran and her students with a panel of the mosaic, as well.

“It has been an absolute delight to have this intergenerational mix,” said Arndt, Prime Time Senior Program director. “When you bring experts and people that are learning, and you have young and old in a creative environment, the sky’s the limit.”

Twenty MacDonald Middle School Art Club students work weekly with the senior volunteers, learning the proper safety procedures and problem-solving skills associated with working with glass, said Engler. Additionally, students learn how to work in a team to create artwork.

From left to right, Lauren Engler, Kelly Arndt and Amanda Moran present their intergenerational mosaic project to the School Board.

From left to right, Lauren Engler, Kelly Arndt and Amanda Moran present their intergenerational mosaic project to the School Board.

“Sometimes it can be difficult to shift away from thinking about Art as an individual practice,” said Engler. “Our Art Club kids and volunteers have been wonderful about asking each other questions and working collaboratively.”

The 15 foot by 3 foot mosaic will hang in the Division Street alley, accompanied by updated landscaping and lighting, family-oriented dining, and game tables. In addition to the piece at Division Street, Grove Street alley will also feature professionally painted murals and new landscaping and lighting.

“I think the most exciting take away for our students will be the lasting impact their work has on East Lansing,” said Engler. “A few days ago I heard several of my sixth grade students discussing how they want to come back and see the mosaic when they come home from college. These are plans our kids are making for 2023 or later.”

The project is paid with crowdsourced funding, with $47,285 donated by the public through Patronocity and $45,000 by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. This funding covers not only the art, but also the accompanying furnishings and landscaping in both locations.

“These are projects that they treasure,” said Amanda Moran. “You don’t have to be good at art.”

The project is part of a larger “placemaking” effort by the city of East Lansing. This approach to management, design, and planning of public space centers on local community assets and inspiration, said Moran. The overall intention is to promote health, happiness, and well being through public spaces.

“There’s a connection there and it’s what you want your community to be about: those connections,” said Arndt. “It’s brought joy to my heart…Those connections have far-reaching effects and we see them through these classes.”

The entire project is expected to finish this summer.

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