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Wednesday, October 30,2013

Broad anniversary: Checking in on a 'game changer'

One year on, East Lansing is still waiting for economic ripples from the Broad

by Lawrence Cosentino
Can a 64,000-square-foot steel and concrete trapezoid drop into a sea of beer and refried beans without making a ripple?

It would seem so.

A year after the museum made landfall on Grand River Avenue, people who track development on MSU’s main drag are still waiting for the economic shock waves to cross the street.

There are no signs of the five-star restaurants, chic boutiques or other amenities some enthusiasts expected. The boarded-up shell of a defunct Taco Bell — remnant of the International Style of architecture, college variant — still stands, right across from the museum, reflected in the Broad’s north face.

According to MSU, just under 120,000 people from all 50 states and over 80 countries visited the museum from its opening to Oct. 23.

A fall 2013 study from the Anderson Economic Group, released by MSU when the museum opened last fall, trumpeted a big opportunity for upscale retail and restaurants, “boutiques with high-quality collectibles and gifts” and higher-end hotels.

The study warned that museum visitors would have "relatively high incomes, high levels of education and tastes and preferences that are more refined and upscale rather than the casual visitor base East Lansing establishments focus on today.”

A June 6 article in The New York Times highlighted the Broad Museum’s visitor count, but when the story turned to other local attractions, reporter Elaine Glusac took note of “the usual quick-service suspects including Jimmy John’s, Taco Bell and Chipotle Mexican Grille” across Grand River Avenue and fled to Old Town and its new carnivore haven, Meat.

“For now, the Broad is the stand-alone art attraction in the greater Lansing area,” Glusac wrote.

Great economic expectations have been yoked to the Broad since before it was a twinkle. In 2007, one of the blue-ribbon jurors who met to select the design for the Broad Museum, Edwin Chan of Gehry Partners, declared, “You should start building hotels, restaurants, expand your airport.”

Chan was project designer for the iconic Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, often credited with the dramatic transformation of a rust-belt Spanish city, dubbed “the Bilbao effect.”

MSU President Lou Anna Simon urged patience. She prefers to look at the entire Grand River and Michigan Avenue corridor at once. “Things are moving along,” she said, citing two big proposed developments — the long-stalled Park District near Abbot

Road and the Red Cedar development across from the Frandor S h o p p i n g Center — that are still in the preannounce ment phase. “The Bilbao Effect didn't take a year,” Simon said. “We're looking at it in a 10-to-15-year increment.”

The Anderson report predicted the Broad Museum would pump $6 million into the region annually. Lori Mullins, East Lansing's senior project manager, said the city had no data on the Broad's economic impact a year later.

Jennie Haas, MSU's director of community relations, said she didn't know of any new East Lansing businesses that have opened in response to the Broad Museum. One empty storefront, the former Wanderer’s Teahouse across from the Broad, will soon be occupied by Sweet Lorraine's Cafe and Bar, a Detroitarea chain, according to Julie Pingston, vice president of the Greater Lansing Convention and Visitors’ Bureau.

Pingston said her staff has been directing art-hungry folks to other galleries in the area. The bureau opened an office across from the Broad Museum a year ago.

Roy Saper of Saper Galleries and Linda Dufelmeier of Mackerel Sky Gallery both reported a daily flow of people who had also visited the Broad. Dufelmeier said she even gets a bump in visitors on Mondays, from disappointed would-be Broad visitors who forgot that the museum is closed that day.

However, neither Saper nor Dufelmeier said the influx had visibly helped their bottom line.

Bob Trezise, CEO of the Lansing Area Economic Partnership, or LEAP, said the Broad has “inspired” renewed development efforts in downtown East Lansing, but the maneuvering has been behind the scenes so far.

“It hasn't happened, but it is happening,” he said. “There is a lot of real estate activity going on in downtown East Lansing, and I feel that the Broad is part of the reason for it.”

He declined to name any projects or businesses that are involved.

Tim Dempsey, East Lansing's planning and community development director, said there have been negotiations with "a few" restaurants on the unfilled Taco Bell shell — which Simon called “the symbolic site” — but none have worked out yet.

Despite the deafening development silence so far, Trezise insists the Broad Museum has been a "positive game changer for the entire region." He's taken prospective clients to the Broad about a dozen times.

“It makes them curious,” Trezise said.

“The architecture shows that our region is about the future.”

Dempsey said the city touts the Broad to business prospects as “an additional traffic generator" after Spartan sports and on campus performances.

In the next few months, the Broad is likely to put greater Lansing on more prospective visitors’ maps. In September, the Convention and Visitors' Bureau teamed with the Travel Michigan campaign to bring a handful of national travel writers to tour three arts destinations in Michigan: the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Broad Museum and Grand Rapids' ArtPrize competition. As a result, several national travel magazines will likely feature MSU and the Broad Museum this winter and spring.

The Broad has sparked a lot of planning activity at the long-term level. Scott Witter, director of MSU’s School of Planning, Design and Construction, has been working on a “world class” vision of the Grand River Avenue corridor with Alec Hathaway, guest curator of architecture. Witter senses a new wave of interest in diversifying the Broad’s fast-food-and-sports-bar surroundings to include housing for professionals, active seniors and other demographic groups.

His group of about 20 students and faculty are drawing up a plan that includes high-density mixed use, more public art and more public transportation, including light rail.

Beginning in November, the Broad Museum will force the “ripple” issue on a grand scale with a monthly guest architect series, "East Lansing 2030: Collegeville Re-Envisioned." [See box for more information.] It may be unreasonable to expect the Broad to change the face of East Lansing, even in the long term.

Joseph Giovannini, the architect and New York Times critic who helped guide the Broad project in its early phases, said it’s “a serious error to ascribe too much importance and power to a single building to transform a neighborhood or a street, let alone a city.” The Guggenheim Bilbao, he pointed out, was part of a larger complex of projects, including a new port, opera house, esplanade and subway.

Even the Broad Museum's public relations specialist, Jake Pechtel, acknowledged that there are limits to the dollars-and-cents pitch. In the long run, Pechtel said, splashy arts “tent poles” like a museum, a symphony or a zoo will draw people and companies into a city or convince them to stay, but that’s not why the Broad exists.

“At some point, we need to stop leading with that,” Pechtel declared. “Pure arts and culture can stand alone. It has its own value too.”

Related story

A look at the Broad Museum's second year

From the science-fiction visions of a Lansing-born architect to “unmonumental” domestic objects to a panorama of contemporary Chinese art, the Broad Museum promises to broaden its international reach, reinforce its ties with the community and step up the search for eye candy and brain food in the coming year.

Broad Museum curator Alison Gass sat down with City Pulse and offered a preview of some of the exhibits to come at the Broad in 2013-‘14.

The next big exhibit at the Broad, beginning Nov. 22, will fill the entire second floor with the futuristic drawings and models of visionary architect Lebbeus Woods, who died last year. Woods didn't get many designs built, but he's an international cult hero and intellectual idol across a range of creative fields, including Hollywood (he is credited with conceptual designs for "Alien 3.") Cross Buckminster Fuller's vast urban schemes with the dripping Gothic architecture of Catalan mystic Antonio Gaud', toss in a withering critique of mass American culture (except the Cartoon Network, which Woods said he liked) and you have some idea of his distinctive vision. The Broad Museum exhibit, the largest collection of Woods' intricate drawings and models ever gathered, will be on loan from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Curators from SF MOMA are heading to the Broad next week to begin work on this ambitious show.

Two things make the Woods extravaganza especially suited to the Broad Museum.

Not only was Woods born in Lansing — much of his family will be on hand for the opening — but he was also cited by Broad Museum architect Zaha Hadid as a major influence. Hadid, too, started out as a "paper architect" who created conceptual designs and paintings before her buildings started to materialize around the world in the past 15 years or so. Gass hopes the Woods exhibit will not only serve up a lot of way-out spectacle (floating buildings, underground cities, a space tomb for Albert Einstein) but dig into Woods’ radical critique of modern culture and trace some of the thinking that led up to Hadid's "parametric" approach to architecture, including the Broad itself.

"The work will formally echo the building it's shown in," Gass said. "That's really exciting to me." Broad Museum Director Michael Rush hopes that Hadid herself will come to the Broad and check out the show. (Gass said Hadid's schedule kept her from attending the Woods show in San Francisco.)

The Broad's Global Focus series, a showcase for individual artists from around the world, will continue this fall with an exhibit by Indian artist Mithu Sen, known for a bold images that play with sexuality and gender.

"The Genres," a series of three exhibits serving up new twists on traditional painting genres, will move into its second phase in January 2013 with "Still Life," a kitchensink-y exhibit by Portland-based Jessica Jackson-Hutchins. The first entry in "The Genres" series, "Portraiture," packed the Minskoff Gallery with crisp and colorful portraits of Bohemian hipsters painted by Hope Gangloff. This winer, "Still Life" will shift from the demimondaine to the semi-mundane with Jackson-Hutchins' pointedly domestic installations using children's clothes, furniture, ceramics and other everyday objects.

Gass said Jackson-Hutchins is part of a growing "un-monumental" movement that elevates the everyday world to investigate how people actually live.

Gass wants to both please and provoke visitors to the Broad, but admits that’s a tall order, if not an outright contradiction. She may have found the perfect mix of visual splendor and tough-minded political content in the work of Pakistani artist Imran Qureshi, who blends age-old painting techniques with violent imagery in a way that reflects his nation's history. Gass has wanted to work with Qureshi for years, and will finally do it for a major show in the Broad Museum’s big Minskoff Gallery, beginning in April 2014. Qureshi was scheduled to do an exhibit at the Broad in spring 2013, but suddenly became very hot in the art world, with a major exhibition in Berlin and a commission from New York's Metropolitan Opera to create a work on its rooftop garden. For the Met commission, Qureshi painted intricate patterns suggesting angel wings, vegetation and feathers — motifs from traditional Indian and Persian miniature painting. But he used blood-red paint, creating the impression from afar that a slaughter had taken place on the roof of the opera house. Gass is glad Qureshi wasn't available in spring, because after the Met project, the art world is waiting to see what he will do next.

“Now he's super famous, but he’s pushed this idea as far as it can go, so he's going to do something totally new for us,” Gass said. There will be intricate miniatures, a large installation, video art and more. “He’s very powerful,” Gass said. “He hits the space between beauty and horror. You're astounded by his skill but it brings the social and political conditions of Pakistan into the gallery as well.”

The third "Genres" entry, beginning in April, packs up the landscape genre and launches it into orbit — literally — with the work of New-York-based artist-photographer-provocatuer Trevor Paglen. There's plenty of beauty in Paglen's large-scale photographic panoramas of the American landscape, taken with an astronomer's lens. But the telltale streaks of satellites, drones, spy planes and other ominous objects layer a different story over the grandeur. Paglen has an obsession with black ops, spy reconnaissance, secret military bases and other hidden layers of the world's power structure, which he deploys with a keen aesthetic sense.

When the Paglen exhibit, curated by Gass, is over this fall, Paglen will return to curate a big show of his own that will look at nothing less than the history of technology's impact on the visual landscape, from Frederick Jackson Turner and Mark Rothko to the present.

How does the human brain process language? What makes art different from, and similar to, words? “Postscript: Writing After Conceptual Art,” beginning in March, will delve into those questions and more, with over 50 artists and works from the 1960s to the present. The theme of the exhibit, language- and text-based art, opens up a gigantic can of alphabet soup through which viewers will do a high-concept backstroke, exploring the relationship between lan guage and art. The exhibit will be the first in the world to take a comprehensive look at “conceptual writing,” the definition of which we will leave to the experts next spring.

The Broad’s major exhibit in fall 2014 is "Re:China" a generous cross-section of Chinese art from the past 10 to 15 years curated by Wang Chunchen of China's Central Academy of Fine Arts, recently chosen to curate the Venice Biennale China Pavilion. The art will focus on technological, social and political changes in contemporary China. Taking advantage of the strong presence of Chinese students and faculty at MSU, Gass and the Broad staff will invite guest Chinese speakers to talk about the issues raised in the art. After this fall’s exibit, Chunchen will keep his hand in at the Broad as an adjunct curator, another signal of the Broad’s international reach.

In 2014 and beyond, Gass and Rush want to bring international guest curators to the Broad to "widen the eye" of the museum, in Rush’s words. More international collaborations, including a project with an arts center in Istanbul, are in the works.

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