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Wednesday, September 4,2013

Alley splat

REO Town's first gallery falls victim to early gentrification

by Lawrence Cosentino
The deluxe new sidewalks and bike lanes along South Washington Avenue are barely dry, but Lansing’s post-industrial center of cool has already lost a home for struggling local artists and musicians. Art Alley, the plucky brick REO Town gallery that fired the first volley of art in the resurgence of the old factory district three years ago, will close Monday.

“That area has gone through its transition,” said gallery creative director Diane Wilson. “It’s the story of gentrification. Art Alley was never designed to be a profitearning business, and now that the area’s property values are rising, it makes perfect sense that a tenant who can pay more in rent would be more appealing to a landlord. It's tough, but it’s the real world.”

Art Alley, 1133 S. Washington Ave., showcased more than 60 artists in its three years, most of whom never exhibited before. Seven went on to be invited to show in Grand Rapids’ prestigious ArtPrize competition. Additionally, over 100 musicians performed on a small acoustic stage.

“Art Alley — the entity, not the building — is a member of Michigan ArtShare Project,” Wilson said. “We are working across counties all over mid-Michigan to connect artists and musicians with places that can show their work.”

Wilson said there are plenty of blighted areas around Lansing and other towns in Michigan for the process to start all over again.

“With the BWL in and road construction done, it doesn’t look like a blighted area anymore,” Wilson said. “We’re open to anybody who has a building that they’re currently not getting any rent for, that they don’t care if some money comes in sporadically, and we’ll try to help them turn it around.”

Art Alley started in summer 2010, before Lansing’s Board of Water and Light built its new power plant and headquarters and restored the historic Grand Trunk Railroad station a block to the south, helping to catalyze a surge of renovation in the area. Money was tight from the start. Art Alley funded some of its programs with grants funneled through the Arts Council of Greater Lansing, but grant rules kept the gallery from using the money for rent or capital improvements.

“After one year, we realized the business community was not going to be on board for fully s u pporting and funding this,” Wilson said. “We would go month to month with whatever businesses we could find that would donate a little bit to have a reception or live music.”

After Art Alley closes, Wilson will keep working with ArtShare to find for more venues for artists.

“Taking an artist out of their garage or basement and showing them what they could be if they could hang it up on a wall in a gallery makes them see themselves differently,” she said. “We have lots of artists who want to show.”

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