“Parklets” and Outdoor Art Installations Coming to Downtown East Lansing

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Gary Caldwell for ELi.

Artwork from an installation at Valley Court Park.

The Arts Commission of the City of East Lansing convened on Thursday to discuss upcoming community art projects and opportunities for East Lansing residents. Though challenges related to COVID-19 have reshaped the City’s artistic landscape, the commissioners and City officials proposed both short- and long-term solutions for keeping art alive and accessible for the community.

“Parklets” Coming to an Alley Near You 

The City’s Community Development Administrator Adam Cummins is heading an initiative in downtown East Lansing designed to draw residents and families to spend some time outdoors while enjoying temporary art installations. 

Cummins emphasized the importance of “protecting public health and safety” in the design of these spaces by adhering to local health guidelines related to the pandemic. Social distancing and masking will be required and hygiene stations will be provided.

The idea of using temporary art installations to draw East Lansing residents downtown during the pandemic has been floated several times by the Downtown Development Authority, the Downtown Management Board and the City Manager. The constant changes wrought by COVID-19 have made its implementation difficult.

But now at least one temporary installation has come to fruition in Valley Court Park and more are set to follow.

These proposed spaces, or “parklets” as the commission referred to them, along with other proposals like free two-hour parking will hopefully encourage residents to explore the downtown area and patronize local businesses as the weather gets colder. Pedestrian-only paths and outdoor winter markets were also discussed as likely possibilities to accompany the parklets.

Cummins shared models for the parklets with the Commissioners and explained which downtown sites and streets were up for consideration in their placement. The alleyway adjacent to Blue Owl, the eave of the hamster cage parking structure and the square on the southeastern side of the Marriott Hotel were a few of these suggestions.

While not designed to draw large crowds or events, Cummins stated that the purpose of the art installations at these parklets is to “engage people, keep them stimulated, and really create that vibrant place.” 

Cummins told the Arts Commission that various types of art, including chalk drawings and murals, were being considered by his team and asked the commissioners for assistance in finding local artists to participate. The Commission discussed utilizing East Lansing schools to encourage K-12 students to submit art projects for the parklets as well as reaching out to established artist networks through REACH Studio Art Center in Lansing. 

While Cummins and team are still ironing out a budget and other logistics for the parklets, he said they hope to have them up and running in November. Those interested in having their art displayed should contact Adam Cummins or Commissioner Wendy Sylvester-Rowan, who has agreed to be the commission’s liaison on this matter.

Other Projects to Look For

Other forms of support and opportunities for local artists were also discussed at Thursday’s meeting. The Arts Commission will help the the Pincanna marijuana dispensary, which is set to open at 1234 East Grand River Ave., select the winner of the business’ art competition. The winning sculpture will be displayed on the grounds of the dispensary.

The Arts Commission also approved an agreement with the Capital Area Housing Partnership regarding use of the Bailey Community Center. CAHP had renovated the gymnasium to allow it to be used for artistic purposes.

The commission requested that CAHP charge East Lansing residents a $20 rental fee for using the gym after hours and small entry fees for viewing temporary art installations. According to the commissioners, residents’ financial support will help “artists recoup costs” associated with using the space, making the venue more enticing.

The commission also invited Yvette Robinson, Director of the Art Gallery in the Hannah Community Center, to speak. As a former member of the Arts Commission, Robinson has held her volunteer position in the Hannah Gallery since 2002. 

Robinson explained her process of cultivating and working with local artists at the gallery and outlined how she works closely with them and the community. She requested further commission support, by both attending gallery functions and advocating for the Hannah Gallery to receive city funding. The Commission agreed to speak with her further on these matters.

What’s Next

The Commission discussed proposed images to embed within the Greetings Tour mural for the City of East Lansing. Several “iconic” East Lansing sites and symbols considered for inclusion, including the hamster cage parking structure, the Red Cedar River, and MSU mascot Sparty. The Commission will forward suggestions to the mural artists while ultimately allowing the creators discretion as they design the rough draft in the coming weeks.

Cultural Arts Grants application forms were also discussed and are currently being revised to include language that will promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. The Commission plans to release the call for applications during the first week of October and to select recipients at their meeting in November, a month later than their usual timeline.

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