Big, Artful Changes: Coming to a Park Near You

Powerful forces for good teamed up to bring change to an expansion of outdoor Lansing, now known as Rotary Park. Yet, there’s a lot going on at Adado Riverfront Park and other places in Greater Lansing, including the Lansing River Trail.

The Capital Region Community Foundation is coordinating private funding for riverfront projects and committing over $1 million in matching funds from the foundation, including $400,000 from the Rotary Club of Lansing Foundation. Contributors include the Greater Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau. As of this writing, $600,000 has been raised.

As a result of those efforts and the work of other organizations, including the Arts Council of Greater Lansing and the Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center, a lot is happening with a focus on improving life in the tri-county area.

For one thing, Rotary Park is lighting up – literally. A “lighted forest” and fireplace on the plaza are parts of the reason, and community engagement will account for the rest. Happening Under the Bridge, or The HUB as it is called, is a concert space at the north end of the park, which is congenially tucked beneath the Shiawassee Street bridge. 

 The community foundation is involved in some 13 projects along the riverfront, and its master planning committee includes experts from Michigan State University, the city of Lansing, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP), the Michigan Municipal League and the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission.

“Many people have no idea we do things like this,” said Laurie Strauss Baumer. “We’re taking on leadership roles in the community and filling gaps. As to the park, it will also include a plaza with colorful umbrella tables, shade sails, string lighting and a fireplace. It is more than just funding.” 

The word “placemaking” is used a lot by those engaged in such projects. Placemaking is the process of capitalizing on a community’s strengths, with goals including quality public spaces, economic boosts and other benefits to area residents. In the case of the riverfront projects, the approach is mindful of cultural diversity and considers the arts essential.

“A revitalized urban core will enhance economic prosperity,” said Bob Trezise, president and CEO of the LEAP. “LEAP is supportive of the foundation’s leadership role in this placemaking initiative. Ultimately, it will benefit everyone who lives and works throughout the tri-county region.”

Jason Kildea, president of Kildea Real Estate Development Services, is contracted by the community foundation to coordinate two of its 13 projects underway.

Adado Riverfront Park is also making big headway. Deborah E. Mikula, executive director of the Arts Council of Greater Lansing, said that she feels the council played a part by setting the table and now has a “seat at the table.” Mikula’s vision includes revitalizing spaces and then activating them. Among the council’s goals are a more “art-centric” community, and it’s a driving force behind the improvements taking place at Adado Riverfront Park.

“Because of Michigan’s climate, outdoor activities are more or less confined to May through October,” said Mikula. “We’re working on changes that will enable more year-round programming, such as seasonal festivals.”

That’s key, because Adado hosts the Common Ground Music Festival among other high-profile events. Improving the infrastructure to better accommodate programming with the advantages of being nestled into a park environment can position Adado as a major contributor to a renaissance in the tri-county area. Because the Grand River bisects Adado, connecting it to a water and habitat network, the impact can extend beyond park boundaries, sustaining wildlife, mitigating flood issues and strengthen riverbanks.

If one needs another reason to use the Lansing River Trail this summer, here it is: ARTpath. Barb Whitney, executive director of Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center, said ARTpath is a means of promoting the work of Michigan artists through activated spaces along 3.5 miles of the Lansing River Trail. 

“Arts-training builds empathy, supports overall learning and fosters civic engagement,” said Whitney. “We will continue to work diligently every day to make our mission, which includes promoting the work of Michigan artists, a reality, and we appreciate the community outpouring of support for ARTpath as an important part of our work.”

Last June, the Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center began partnering with the Lansing Parks and Recreation Department to revitalize 10 sites along the Lansing River Trail with temporary, site-specific public art. The installations are expected to remain in place until sometime this month. Whitney hopes to increase funding next year so that more Michigan artists can be included in the project.

 ARTpath’s art ranges from large-scale murals to interactive sound sculptures and touches on a variety of relevant themes including homeless veterans, the fragility of Michigan’s natural environment and the water crisis. ARTpath is known to have witnessed, and perhaps sparked, the largest ever Lansing Bike Party, and children proudly show it off to family members.  

That statement Laurie Strauss Baumer made that it’s not all about funding – at this point – is an understatement. 

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