The City of East Lansing’s Arts Commission and Arts Selection panels have begun their artist selection process for a new mural in Bailey Lot. The mural will serve as a photo backdrop for residents and visitors and is expected to be completed in time for the East Lansing Art Festival in May.
“We had this idea of something very vibrant, colorful, abstract,” arts commissioner and former Vice Chair Allie Siarto said. ”Something that could stand alone as art, but that you could also get someone in front of and get a really neat photo where it works as the background but doesn’t compete with the subject.”
The mural was proposed in September, with requests for qualifications sent in October. The commission has adopted an extended timeline due to a lack of clarity in the written design proposal. The original description of the mural called for an interactive element, using the term “selfie wall” to reference the use of the mural as a background for pictures.
“We got great submissions, but they were not abstract and they were very literal, like a bear or wings or a swing,” said Arts Initiative Coordinator Heather Majano. “The interaction the commissioners want to see from the public is you [taking] your senior pictures there or something like that. Something that offers a fun backdrop that invites people to have photos taken there so that the person in front of the wall is the star and not the mural itself.”
After rewording the mural’s description and gaining feedback from 28 artists who submitted ideas, the commission invited six artists to complete new designs due at the end of February.
“A big thing that the Commission wants is to see a vibrant backdrop, abstract in the image,” Majano said. “What we expect to get back from the artists is something with those key points clearly laid out, but in that artist’s specific style.”
After being invited to submit a design for the second round of applications, Detroit-based muralist duo Ciel, composed of artists Adrienne Pickett and Kellie Bambach, said their design approach will include analyzing the previous request for qualifications to solve what may have been lacking in the original submissions.
“When we partner on doing murals specifically, we really like to think through what the community is looking for, what the client is looking for, what they’re trying to express,” Pickett said. “We want to make sure we’re incorporating not only abstract art, which is what they’re asking for but a way to fuse our own style into that makes sense for East Lansing and that surrounding neighborhood.”
By adapting their art style to the commission’s vision, the pair plan to create a mural that urges passersby to pose in front of it for their social media feeds.
“We try to be true to ourselves with the art style. We typically do bright colors and big, bold graphics but still have it be engaging,” Bambach said. “It’s the Instagram wall. Everybody wants to stand in front of something that looks cool and show it off. Once we see people start sharing our work in that way, we know we did it right.”
The budget for the mural is $30,000 for painting equipment and artist compensation. Additionally, each artist invited to submit a design is paid $500 for their contributions to the project. The mural is funded through the Public Art Fund, which allocates 1% of the city’s general funding for public facility improvement toward art installations on these facilities.
“Anytime we can bring color and beauty to the downtown area, we want to do that,” Siarto said. “One of the things that is put on our plate from the city is this idea of urban form. Urban form is just making the city more beautiful – and so we look for places to do that. [Bailey Lot] was brought to the commission as a potential space for art and we all agreed that it was a great place to put it.”
In May, the commission hopes to provide East Lansing Art Festival attendees an opportunity to speak directly with the artist, Majano said.
“I think finishing it up in time for the art festival is obviously a great way to introduce this piece of art to the city,” Siarto said. “Springtime is the time when people are out there seeing everything again. I think having that out there when we come out would be really great. I see it as the whole community, especially during the art festival, having the opportunity to interact with it and be introduced to it when talking about art within the community.”
While the commission envisions the mural as a potential photo backdrop for East Lansing residents, Majano and Siarto said safety also factors into the design consideration.
“It’s a balance because it is a parking lot and we have to be safe and we don’t want it to be overrun with people blocking traffic, but we wanted something that could potentially serve that [photo backdrop] purpose in some way,” Siarto said.
“We want it to be beautiful on its own,” Siarto said. “The reason we thought of something that could be a backdrop is that I’m a photographer and I watched other cities, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Austin and Chicago, create amazing murals that are abstract and colorful that become destinations that people go to to take pictures. They don’t just stumble across it and take a picture. They seek it out as something that’s really fun to see. We were looking for something like that.”