Arts Commission Concerned about Local Businesses and the Arts During Pandemic

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The Arts Commission discussed how to support local businesses. Featured above, clockwise from top left: Georgios Pizza, Woven Art, Seams, and Curious Book Shop.

The East Lansing Arts Commission met on Thursday, Nov. 19, to tackle an agenda that focused on keeping arts and local businesses alive during the pandemic. The commission still announced a new round of applications for its Cultural Arts Grants and discussed an issue of major concern: Small businesses need our help!

East Lansing Businesses Struggling

Vice Chair Wendy Sylvester-Rowan (leading the meeting while Chair Laura Scales is away) shared updates about plans to revitalize downtown East Lansing, stating “businesses are literally shuttering” as City reports suggest nearly 60% of downtown businesses may not survive the pandemic. In light of new restrictions as Covid-19 cases continue to rise in Ingham County, some efforts to draw residents to the downtown area have been put on hold.

The “parklets” – first introduced in September as small areas downtown that were to include outdoor seating, art installations, and pop-up markets – are being planned for Spring 2021. According to Sylvester-Rowan, the City is still moving forward with a few small incentives to encourage patronage at East Lansing businesses.

(ELi is also providing information to readers on how to support local businesses. Check out our new series, “Spend Locally,” here.)

The East Lansing High School Parent Council has provided a grant to local art teachers to print-out students’ artwork to put in downtown store fronts. Sylvester-Rowan hopes that people may patronize businesses for a bit of shopping in order to see the art displays.

Council Liaison Jessy Gregg elaborated on some other City plans to help businesses in distress, such as bolstering outdoor business space with heaters and seating while also looking into grant and loan resources. She cited a “potential new community partner” in the App developer company TechSmith that is likely to take up headquarters at Spartan Village near Harrison Rd.

Arts Commission Allocates Cultural Arts Grants

The Arts Commission also met on Nov. 19 to allocate funds for the 2020 Cultural Arts Grants. With a budget of $17,500, the commission reviewed proposals and listened to a variety of presentations from applicants.

Proposals for Cultural Arts Grants had to meet specific criteria, including being held in East Lansing and promoting “public participation and/or cultural awareness.” Art projects that focused on diversity and inclusion would receive priority. Six applications were submitted by the deadline and after a discussion, the commission decided not to consider those submitted late.

Projects that were presented ranged from arts festivals to community arts initiatives. Jennifer VanDerHeide from the All-of-us Express Children’s Theatre presented their proposal for support of a youth production of Charlotte’s Web in spring 2021. Karla Forrest-Hewitt’s “Kindness Rocks East Lansing” project would have residents take home art kits to design their own rocks to share with neighbors and the community. Heather Majano, Arts Commissioner and Art Festival & Arts Initiative Coordinator for East Lansing, requested funds for the East Lansing Arts Festival to provide hands-on art activities and programming for children.

After deliberating, the commissioners planned to allocate about half of the available $17,500. Since money still remains, the commission decided to release another call for proposals for a second cycle of grant applications, with a tentative deadline of February 2021. All, barring those that have already received funding for 2021, are welcome to apply.

What’s Next? Updates and Upcoming Events

The “Greetings from East Lansing” mural is nearly finalized. After another round of feedback from the Arts Commission, involving the placement of the iconic black squirrel atop the lettering, the mural’s design headed to the Art Selection Panel to review, where it was approved.

Residents can still submit a proposal to create an art sculpture for the Pincanna marijuana dispensary. As of the Nov. 19 meeting, no proposals have yet been received. Proposals are due by Dec. 15, 2020.

Also, still open are two positions for anyone in East Lansing interested in being more formally involved in the City’s art scene. In January 2021, one seat on the Arts Commission and one on the Art Selection Panel will be open. Applications are accepted through the city’s website.

Note: This article was corrected on Nov. 28 to indicate that Laura Scales is the Commission Chair, with Vice Chair Wendy Sylvester-Rowan leading meetings while Scales is away.

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