A Simply Marvelous Place

Since 1965, the Lansing Art Gallery has been a showplace for original art and artistic forms, all with a Michigan provenance. Started through the cooperative efforts of local artists and volunteers, it was incorporated as a nonprofit shortly after its founding. It is the first permanent art gallery in Lansing and is Lansing’s oldest nonprofit gallery. Its first facility was a home on Ionia Street and Capitol Avenue, leased from the city for $1 a year. Outgrowing that space, the Gallery then moved to the upstairs of Jim’s Tiffany, a downtown restaurant. In 1975, another move took the gallery to the Center for the Arts on South Grand Avenue.

Then, just four years ago, it moved once again, to its current space at 113 S. Washington Ave. According to Executive Director Catherine Babcock, “Not only did we need more space, we also wanted to increase our foot traffic. The Center for the Arts was just enough out of the way that we didn’t attract downtown walkers. Since our move, we’ve increased by four or five times the number of people who stop in. Plus, with the move, we more than doubled our space and now have increased gallery space as well as 3,000 square feet for our gift shop.

Upstairs, there are two galleries displaying what Babcock calls, “art for art’s sake.” The artists whose works are displayed are chosen by a panel of jurors, anywhere from three to five experts who choose art not for its marketability but for its importance–art which reflects what’s happening in the Michigan artistic community. Yearly, Babcock will release to Michigan artists a call for exhibits, and artists submit their work for consideration by the panel of jurors. Generally speaking, the panel meets once a year and selects art for the upcoming 12 to 18 months. For the most part, exhibits change monthly.

Downstairs, many Michigan artists are represented, and the work displayed there is usually moderately priced. Jewelry, pottery (including Detroit-made Pewabic pottery), photography, fabric art, textiles, woodwork and many other examples of unique and original artwork are available for purchase. Many of the items are distinctly Michigan—jewelry made of native stones and gems, Michigan-grown wood, locally made fabric pieces, and photography and art showing the many beauties of the Great Lakes State. The downstairs area also includes a lease/purchase gallery where patrons may purchase original artwork on an installment plan. Customers can take a piece of art home for six months, paying a monthly rental fee. At the end of six months, the customer can choose to return the art to the gallery or can apply 100 percent of the lease payments toward the purchase of the work. 

Items for sale in the gift shop are chosen by a panel of 12 local jurors. Rather than meeting once a year and selecting art for the entire year, these jurors consult frequently, often by e-mail, and artists can submit their work at any time to be added to the collection. With new items constantly being added, each trip to the gallery can easily result in a “Wow, I have to have that!”

According to Babcock, “In the past, we have sold only original art, but much of the work shown in the upstairs galleries is quite expensive. We have recently reevaluated this policy and have decided to allow artists to sell giclée prints, print reproductions of original work using archival quality inks and papers. Any prints sold by the artist come from original work as seen in the upstairs galleries. This new policy makes economic sense both for the artists and the customers.”

The Lansing Art Gallery currently employs two full-time and two part-time employees. There is an 11-member board of directors. The gallery is funded through memberships, grants, sponsorships, donations and earned income from sales and camps and classes offered throughout the year. Recently, the Lansing Art Gallery qualified for the Michigan income tax credit. In addition to getting a deduction for federal tax purposes, Michigan residents can now take a 50 percent credit against state taxes.

One or two fundraisers a year not only raise money but also increase awareness of the gallery in the Lansing-area community. 

Part of the mission of the gallery is outreach and education. Art Camp is a full- or half-day experience designed to give up to ten students an opportunity to create their own artwork. Groups can also schedule field trips to any of the exhibits with staff providing guided tours. Now in its 25th year, Art Smart offers after-school enrichment classes in cooperation with the Lansing School District. Students in the program are given hands-on instruction in a variety of visual arts media by professional and experienced art specialists. Art Smart has reached 11,500 young people in its history, providing over 43,000 hours of quality art instruction. The gallery also offers Saturday workshops for children and adults, artist demonstrations and lectures. In addition, the Lansing Art Gallery participates in the First Sunday Gallery Walk on the first Sunday of each month. Check out their website at www.lansingartgallery.org for details about these events.

Babcock says, “Since 1984, the Lansing Art Gallery has awarded over $80,000 in scholarship money to young artists. Student competitions have proved to be among our most popular exhibitions.” 

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Now that the thousand words are winding down, it’s time to make an up-close and personal visit to the Lansing Art Gallery to, in Thomas Merton’s words, find yourself and lose yourself at the same time. Enjoy!

Lansing Art Gallery
Catherine Babcock, Executive Director
113 S. Washington Square

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