Artist Bob Rose, 63, is a west sider, living a short walk from Verlinden Street. He is committed to promoting the city with his public art. He is a trustee of the Historical Society of Greater Lansing and a dedicated volunteer for Downtown Lansing Inc. He is quick to lend his hand to community art projects. He sees art everywhere, even in the city’s sewers. He recently retired from the city of Lansing and believes public art needs to be collaborative.
What do you like about the west side?
I grew up near Bay City, up in Essexville, where the Thumb comes together. I remember living where houses were close to the sidewalk and neighbors talked to each other.
When I began looking for a home here, I looked at the west side. The roads are just are amazing, twisting and turning. When I did find a house, it had a porch. And having a porch is magic. Because you’re so close to the street and you can actually have a conversation with somebody walking by.
You probably meet some pretty interesting people just sitting on your porch.
Oh, my gosh, but first of all, you meet people’s dogs. That's how you know people first in the neighborhood, you know, by their dog.
How did you end up in Lansing?
After Michigan Tech, attending the civil engineering tech school, I went to Colorado for a couple of years. I came back to the to the Great Lakes State because it just drew me back.
After meeting my wife in Midland, we moved to Lansing, and I landed a job with the city of Lansing.
Tell us how you discovered your penchant for art late in life?
Art didn’t come until a lot later in life, like in in my late 40s, and then it really didn’t take off until into my 50. It’s all been self- taught.
Why the focus on public art?
I was fortunate early in my art to run into gallery owners and a restaurant owner who gave me the opportunity to put art up. It was kind of a jump into the deep end of the pool.
I was asked through the Arts Council of Greater Lansing to work on the steering committee for placemaking and to paint the street on Michigan Avenue in front of the Lansing Center.
Before that it was basically doing chalk art on sidewalks and my driveway just to practice.
There’s a daycare around the corner from my house, and they come by and look at my art. I’ve got a regular audience.
How did art change your life?
I wasn’t trying to be involved in my community. I was one of those people asking: Why isn’t this happening? Well, I discovered you have to be involved. We all have ideas what we want our community to be, and we need to accept that other folks may have different ideas.
The mural project at Harry’s Bar is getting a lot of attention right now. Tell us about it.
I was in Grand Rapids for Art Prize and I saw the bars and restaurants with art in them. Their bathrooms are like works of art, too. I talked it over with Harry’s owners. They said OK, and I walked in the door and just started painting.
Most of the paintings are just done on the spot. There’s a big heart, the number 33 in one, and I got a Rocket 88 painting in another, and then I got abstracts, and it’s wild. The concept is that when you walk in, no matter how you’re feeling, if you’re feeling down its gonna take your mind off it.
What are your 2021 plans for art projects?
Definitely getting outside. I’m working with Dominic Cochran from the Capitol City Film Festival and Lansing Media Center to do three-D projection on the Coamerica building.
And I’m also working with ceramic artist Alexandra Leonard to create a big piece of community art on the Shiawassee Bridge, and I’ve got a location for a mural that I’m gonna be doing outside.
In your work with the City of Lansing you became an expert on sewers. How did that work intersect with your vision for art?
You have to hold on to the drawings for as long as the sewers operate. Some of them are operating 100-plus years. They are brick and they look egg shape. You keep making this design, and it goes back to ancient history of how you do the keystone.
Back then just a simple drawing for a light was so ornate and so beautiful and it was a work of art.
Ten years from now, where do you see Lansing’s creative community?
I see Lansing as an art hub.
(This interview was conducted, edited and condensed by Bill Castanier.)