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The Reason

January 16, 2010

Growing up in Sparta, MI, I was surrounded by a mostly homogenous population that appreciates high school wrestling, hunting and gossiping more than arts, culture, or sharing stories with the people around them. I didn’t feel connected to the people milling around me at the grocery store and at school, and my creative spirit was feeling more than a bit stifled. And though I was physically close to a large city, the bright lights and big ideas sparkling just down the hill in Grand Rapids couldn’t have felt farther away when I was growing up.

A Little Taste of Sparta, MI (top, right photos by Teague Simoncic; left photo by Sara Vander Zanden)

When I finally ventured out into the city, traveling from concert venues and restaurants on the weekends to the Festival of the Arts in June to Ah-Nab-Awen Park on World Refugee Day, I began to feel the undercurrent of vibrancy in the city, as well as a strong sense of connectedness to the people and activities in it. I discovered what it is to find “Place” in a place.

In October of 2009, ArtPrize, a public art competition, brought over 1,200 artists and their entries to the city and several thousand citizens and visitors actively participated in deciding which artwork was worthy of the $250,000,000 top prize. Walking through the streets of the city during ArtPrize, seeing people of all backgrounds talking to their fellow observers, hating some entries, being moved to tears by others, laughing and complaining and jumping and eating all on the streets of the city was when I truly realized how much this creative kind of community meant to me, and that I had to find a way to become more invested at the ground level of it all.

Here is an incredible video of one of ArtPrize’s more controversial entries by Rob Bliss. I, personally, loved every second of it.

Beyond my personal experience with ArtPrize, the event truly exemplifies the kind of creative thinking and community building that many believe Michigan needs to implement as a whole; promote creative solutions to the state’s economic problems and build a sense of community with its residents. Grand Rapids is entering a new stage of its history; one that I believe will set it apart from its image of conservative stagnation.

Though ArtPrize was the first large scale example of creative community building that I experienced, people and organizations across the state are doing amazing things as well. I have had some incredible opportunities to become more involved with the idea of community building through art, and the notion of a creative economy through my connections in the RCAH and in Lansing.

This past fall, I was enrolled in a class that, led by the fantastic Guillermo Delgado, helped facilitate art classes for grade schoolers through the Patterns of Place Project (click here to read a pretty cool press release featuring a statement by yours truly). I built relationships with both the participating students and the staff of REACH Studio Art Center, and saw firsthand how big of a role art can play in making a large city feel like your own “Place”.

At REACH Studio Art Center with one of my mentees, Jessica. (photo by Guillermo Delgado)

Also during last semester, I met Leslie Donaldson, director of the Arts Council of Greater Lansing.  When the Arts Council called to offer me an unpaid internship, I was elated. I began compiling a comprehensive list of all the goings-on in the Greater Lansing area and entering the events into an interactive calendar on the Art Council’s website. The calendar serves as a way for citizens to become completely aware of local art exhibits, performances and classes to participate in. I also volunteered at Silver Bells in the City, which the ACGL funds and produces.

I have been invited back to the ACGL this semester, and through coordination with Vince Delgado and Dave Sheridan, I have constructed an independent engagement course that will allow me to earn credit both for my time at the ACGL as well as my independent exploration into the world of creative communities, and more specifically, how these types of places can foster economic prosperity. I hope to become immersed in the communities that I engage with, to challenge myself, and to feel a true bond to the work that I am doing with the ACGL. I wholeheartedly believe in the powers of creativity and community to transform places and people, and am so excited to become more involved in this fascinating, important, and timely movement.

This blog will serves as a diary of sorts, as I explore the places, people, organizations and agents of community at work in Lansing, as well as other areas around the state and country. I aim to post thoughtful reflections of my experiences, previous and future pieces of my writing and artwork pertaining to this subject matter, as well as interesting tid-bits I’m sure to come across throughout this exciting adventure. This movement is a phenomenon, if I can in any way contribute to its growth, even through one person reading this blog and being inspired to become engaged with their community, I would be truly honored and humbled.

Wish me luck! And share, share, share everything you come across about this subject with me, with your hairstylist, with your bank teller, with your old and new friends.