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Below the Stacks: An art festival for the people


While presenting students at Sexton High School with math exercises using public art, Dustin Hunt had a student ask him, “What is a mural?” Inspired by the spoils of marriage between street art and the economy in Portland, Oregon, Hunt created a business based on incorporating murals and architecture into tactile exercises for youth, called Muralmatics. Hunt, a Lansing Community College and Michigan State University alum, said when he returned to the capitol city and noticed the lack of engagement with the blocks of empty beige walls, he was “concerned.”

Below the Stacks, Lansing’s inaugural mural-painting festival, kicks off Sunday in conjunction with Art Attack in REO Town. Ozay Moore is the founder of All of the Above Hip Hop Academy and is the second half of the mind behind the festival’s programming. The result is essentially a free course in Hip Hop Culture 101 for all ages, through lecture series, breakdancing tutorials, bike tours, DJ sets and more. Alexis Rosado, the festival marketing director, said she has grown to appreciate the role public art can play in the community.

“It’s not just people painting on a building,” Rosado said. “Every artist is representing different cultural backgrounds and messaging. What I love about our lineup is the mixture of men and women.”

The week-long festival will activate eight sites across Lansing. Most are near the Grand River in REO Town and Old Town. More than 10 public artists were selected, from Lansing to Los Angeles, for their ability to quickly execute large murals. Chicago’s Sent Rock, responsible for the bird-like figure living in REO Town, will return to Lansing to take on the towering west wall of The Grid, an arcade bar near the Brenke Fish Ladder. The wall of the Cadillac Room in REO Town adjacent to a parking lot, which once carried a frenzy of throw ups, was returned to a fresh canvas. Four international artists will collaborate to reinvent the parking lot wall, including Detroit native Sydney James. The parking lot will serve as the information desk of the festival as well as the hub for daytime events and bike tours.

The final gathering is at the Avenue Café with a performance by Oddisee. The Sudanese producer and rapper is based in Brooklyn, New York, and remains a reigning champ in the national, independent rap music scene.

Let’s organize

Co-founders Moore and Hunt acquired two grants from the Arts Council of Greater Lansing, including the 2019 impact grant, which allowed them to hire eight apprentices to assist the professional painters. The apprentices themselves range from local art students to full-time freelancers. In an apprentice orientation meeting Friday, Moore and Hunt noted the past eight months were spent working with building owners. They added that in the case of installing murals on city-owned buildings, the artist must give up ownership, which the co-founders knew would be a disincentive for the painters.

Contrasting his years spent in Lansing to Portland, Hunt said it’s easy to “forget how difficult it is to get that visibility for the arts.”

“Those cities know the value of public art and they incorporate it in their development,” he said. “Here, I think a lot of people understand the value of it, but it’s more of an afterthought, instead of how we design our city.”

Rosado said at least one business backed out, noting that part of the agreement is the owners don’t get a say in the art itself. Dom Cochran, co-founder of Ahptic Productions and director of the Lansing Public Media Center, sat on two boards that approved having murals. Ahptic Productions, a media company at 901 Cleveland St., will have its wall facing Oakland Avenue reimaged by Werc. The Mexico-born artist is known for electrifying cityscapes with vibrant metamorphic illustrations that incorporate historical elements.

“We have a high percentage of Hispanic population in our neighborhood and the artist is supposed to be inspired by the community,” said Cochran.

Rosado said it “required a lot of trust” to have owners blindly accept the vision of Moore, Hunt and the assigned artist.

“That’s transformative in a culture where art is dying in school systems,” she added.

For a list of mural locations, visit belowthestacks.com

Below the Stacks

Sept. 15-21

REO Town Art Attack w/ AOTA

Sun., Sept. 15, 1-7 p.m.

Cadillac Room Parking Lot

1155 S. Washington Ave.

Artist Talks

Wed., Sept. 18, 6:30-8 p.m.

REACH Art Studios

1804 S. Washington Ave.

Paint Pop Up Workshop w/ MSU Broad

Thurs., Sept. 19, 5-8 p.m.

Cadillac Room Parking Lot

1155 S. Washington Ave.

REO Block Party w/ Tall Black Guy

Fri., Sept. 20, 6-9 p.m.

Cadillac Room Parking Lot

1155 S. Washington Ave.

Bike Tours

Sept. 19, 7-8:30 p.m.

Sept. 20, 6:30-8 p.m.

Cadillac Room Parking Lot

1155 S. Washington Ave.

Culture Clash w/ Oddisee

Sat., Sept. 21, 6 p.m.- 2 a.m.

All ages until 10 p.m.

The Avenue Café

2021 E. Michigan Ave.


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