As the weather begins to warm up and Michiganians venture outdoors, residents of Greater Lansing might be interested in taking a walk.
And while there are beautiful hiking trails throughout the region, Lansing and other towns also have an abundance of public art to admire – with more works appearing every year.
Public art plays a unique role in shaping a community’s identity, said Jonpaul Smith, a Cinncinati-based multimedia artist. One of Smith’s creations, a technicolor statue of the Virgin Mary, stands near Brightwell Behavioral Health in East Lansing.
Smith cited Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate statue in Chicago’s Millennium Park – often referred to as “The Bean” – as an example of a public artwork that has become an integral part of his hometown.
“You can almost just say ‘The Cloud’ and people think Chicago. It’s almost part of who Chicago is now,” Smith said. “It can foster a community’s identity. If done well, the community is proud of it and you can have a sense of belonging.”
Lansing may not have a singular and iconic work in the same way, but the area has many pieces that have become must-sees in their respective places.
Here are some of the best pieces of public art to check out in Greater Lansing when you step outside.
The capital’s city center remains a hub for politics and commerce. It also houses several sculptures.
Many of these can be found on Lansing Community College’s “Downtown Sculpture Walk”, a collection of 27 pieces scattered around the school’s campus and surrounding areas.
A sculpture is Inspiration, a twisted metal structure, north of the market town of Lansing, near the Grand River. It was donated to the city for its 150th anniversary by several organizations.
Nearby, across from the Lansing Center, is Portrait of a Dreamer, a nearly 2-ton aluminum and steel sculpture that faces Lansing’s Museum District.
Designed by Ivan Iler and unveiled in December 2017, the sculpture is a bust with gears extending from his forehead. The gears can be turned using a crank at the base of the sculpture.
“I remember going to Impression 5 and the RE Olds Museum as a kid,” Iler told the State Journal in 2017. “After reading that the reason they wanted something designed and built for the place was to draw attention to the cultural district, I realized that although I had fond memories of those places, I couldn’t have told you where they were.”
There are murals throughout Lansing, but they are perhaps most prominent in the Old Town area of town.
One such mural – “Maawed Miijim: The One Who Provides” by artist Diné Xicana Nanibah Chacon – depicts wild strawberries being picked, a sacred act for the Anishinaabe, according to a webpage by Michigan State University.
From 2018:International artist Nanibah Chacon creates a mural in Old Town Lansing
Another mural spans nearly 68 feet outside Elderly Instruments, a longtime musical instrument store at 1100 N. Washington Ave.
The mural, painted by Jennifer Springman, is a tribute to classical string instruments and the city.
“Everybody’s been so responsive, so grateful,” Springman told the State Journal in 2015. “I feel like I’m part of Elderly, even though I’m not a musician.”
Born in Detroit and raised in Lansing, Brian Whitfield is an advocate for the city’s art scene and a prolific artist and muralist.
One of his most recent works is a mural adorning the side of the Allen Neighborhood Center on the east side of town. The organization provides resources to the neighborhood and its residents, such as support for social programs, food distribution and other initiatives.
Whitfield said her mural — depicting a bustling neighborhood with people cooking, dancing and communing — is an ode to the nonprofit’s food work.
When he painted it, he said, neighbors would pass by and stare at him, while offering words of encouragement.
“There was a fun and kind of entertainment quality to it. A lot of people were always saying, ‘Thank you for making our town beautiful,'” Whitfield said. “They’re proud of Lansing and they really want to see Lansing spruce up and pretty, and these murals popping up everywhere do that.”
Other murals appear on the south side of town, such as one near the northernmost part of the Lansing Public Media Center at 2500 S. Washington Ave. Painted by Chicago-based artist Max Sansing for the 2019 Under the Stacks Mural Festival, the futuristic mural features a black astronaut staring at a gold key.
Ozay Moore, founder of All of the Above Hip Hop Academy and Creative, organized the festival with artist Dustin Hunt. He said Sansing’s vision was one of “possibility”.
“A young woman, a young black woman, who is just aiming for the stars, aiming for her dreams and really embracing that possibility,” Moore said. “And on the side of the public media center, there was also a proper home for that, because that space … is meant to be a talent incubator for Lansing’s creatives, especially in film and video. “
Moore said there still wasn’t much public art in the south end of the city, but he looked forward to more being installed. Lansing is in the midst of an identity shift, he said — a shift closely tied to his people.
“Thousands and thousands of people who moved here as refugees to the town of Lansing for safety and for a fresh start, to people who came here for college and decided to stay, to local shops mom and pop artists… hard working blue collar workers I mean shoot Stevie Wonder went to school (Michigan) for the blind here Malcolm X’s family had a farm here Magic Johnson is from here,” Moore said.
“We’ve seen a lot of greatness and there’s a lot of greatness here, but it’s not often celebrated as part of Lansing’s identity. I think it’s always been about the automotive industry… if not politics and (university).”
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Wall art and graffiti have a disruptive nature that can promote visibility, Moore said.
“Writing on the wall is closely tied to our visibility and our history,” Moore said. “It’s like, if I don’t have time to sit down and have a conversation with you, maybe I can put this on the wall and you’ll know what it’s about. And can Maybe it will inspire you to think differently about this area and what you drive here.”
Smith has been collecting paper ephemera since he was a child. For his statue of the Virgin Mary, he wove these pieces of paper – from old concert tickets to soda labels – into a tapestry, before making a vinyl print and covering the statue with them.
The end result is the 7-foot technicolor statue on Coolidge Road in East Lansing.
Smith said he chose the Virgin Mary because of how she portrays a calming figure at the entrance to the psychiatric clinic.
“I want people to be like, ‘Whoa, what is this?’ In a good way, come (then) get close to it,” Smith said. “My great woven tapestry work, I’ve always said it had like a macrocosmic view, near and far. From afar, the pattern blends together and you see more like a color field. But as you you get closer, you can make out all those little details and things.”
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University Town is also home to several murals, including “Life is a groovy opportunity”, on the north side of the Division Street parking lot. The mural was a collaborative work of seven Michigan State University professors, recent graduates, and student artists.
The idea for the “Eyes are the Windows to the Soul” mural in downtown St. Johns came naturally to muralist Tracie Davis when she looked at the wall on the Higham Street side of the building’s 223 N. Clinton Ave.
“The windows just reminded me of a person’s eyes. That was kind of the idea behind the faces,” Davis said. “And then the floral part came with the desire to have enough interest in the lower half of the mural that the community could paint it.”
The process of creating the mural – funded by a grant from the Lansing Area Economic Partnership – brought together community members of all ages and abilities to paint the lower half of the design.
Davis said the cooperative environment of such events makes the day fun. It also creates a lasting memory that townspeople can share.
“Having it on the wall is one thing. But then it lives with people where they’re looking for it and they want to have their picture taken or come and watch it,” Davis said. “We now have some murals (in) downtown St. Johns, so…it just creates an experience that lives on.”
Another community painting event is scheduled for June 12, Davis said. This time, she said, people are being asked to help paint a first responder mural that will adorn the side of the city’s fire station.
Got a favorite piece of art that wasn’t on our radar? Let us know! Contact journalist Jared Weber at 517-582-3937 or [email protected]