A Brief History
In 1965, a handful of hard-working artists and arts educators cooperatively created Lansing Community Gallery This progressive move provided Michigan’s capital city with a showplace for original art. Later re-titled Lansing Art Gallery, our organization evolved into the City of Lansing’s first permanent art gallery and a hub for educational arts activities.
Now Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center, our organization’s unwavering mission is to “promote public awareness, education, and enjoyment of the visual arts promoting the works of Michigan artists.” We offer free and accessible opportunities to experience the visual arts through our location in downtown Lansing. We are building a legacy through over 500 free art exhibitions and over $100,000 in awards for students.
Over the course of 55 years, our locations have ranged from the initial location prior to incorporation (in a barn) to the current facility, which boasts more than 7,000 square feet, including a professional exhibition space, retail gallery, student gallery and dedicated education center for arts instruction.
September 8: The Lansing Community Art Gallery was incorporated as a non-profit organization, becoming Lansing’s first community art gallery. This project was set into motion by Sexton art instructor Judith Leepa with the wholehearted support of many, including then-Mayor Max E. Murninghan. Leepa initially served as President. Board members included: Sigmund Kempler, Robert Johnson, Douglas McNitt, Gilbert Hansen, Sue Fulton, Frances DeVries, Mildred Tompkins, and Shirley Brainard. Joining them as founders were Harry Worst, Jane Venable, Sally Swiss, Kenneth Beachler, Judy Reynolds and Aime Martinat. The Gallery’s first location included eight rooms of the former Lansing Business University at 124 W. Ionia Street. On December 5, 1965, our first exhibition opened with free public access to the exhibitions established at the outset of our programming.
Community engagement increased dramatically by members, participating artists, and patrons, prompting a move to 118 ½ E. Michigan, above Jim’s Tiffany Restaurant, with the generous help of then-owner Angie Vlahakis. The Lansing Community Art Gallery remained in this location from 1967 until 1975.
The Board of Directors created our first paid staff position made possible with seed funding from the federal Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA). CETA was created to combat severe unemployment during the mid-1970s and was the largest such program since the Works Progress Administration of the 1930s. Randy Mifflin served as the first Gallery Director. Of note: we also began to use our first logo, which was created by a Michigan State University graduate student.
Our staff, Board of Directors, volunteers, and supporters were instrumental in a community-wide fundraising campaign for a new Lansing Center for the Arts. In 1975 Lansing Art Gallery moved into the Center, located at 425 South Grand Avenue, once the Dan O’Shaughnessy Plymouth dealership. As our organization’s programs grew, the staff was expanded to three total employees. Monthly art enrichment programs include the “Brown Bag” series include a growing group of volunteers and enthusiastic patrons.
After school art enrichment classes begin in the Lansing School District supported by the City of Lansing, which began a tradition of art instruction by teaching artists that continues today with Late-Start Wednesdays, a program that supports student learning on a weekly basis.
Our first high school exhibition and competition was founded by local arts educators: Peggy King and Sara Jane Venable. The program titled Art Scholarship Alert continues today, providing recognition and financial assistance to outstanding art students. We actively partner with arts teachers and schools to encourage artistic growth and provide young artists with an opportunity to participate in a professional gallery setting. Awards to students now total over $110,000 to young artists to help further their creative endeavors.
Educational programs continue to grow to include Summer Art Camp, weekly series of classes in which young artists explore creative processes, techniques and materials with the guidance of trained artists. This program continues today and will be held virtually in 2020 due to COVID-19.
Capitalizing on the initial stages of downtown revitalization for Lansing, we moved to the heart of the downtown district at 113 South Grand Avenue. Housed in the former “Lieberman’s” building from fall 2004 through 2009, our attendance and artist participation grew significantly, partly due to increased outreach such as public art installations and artist demonstrations.
In the interest of expanding education initiatives on-site at the Gallery, we moved to our current, larger location at 119 North Washington Square, which boasts over 7,000 square feet with an open floor plan and larger exhibition space. In addition, the location offers a dedicated education center for arts instruction and a student gallery. We began to use the moniker Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center, which became our legal name in 2018.
Our community actively celebrated our fiftieth anniversary with a 50th anniversary exhibition and competitive awards, growing programs, and strategic plans toward increased access for all people. We established goals to build collaborations with other nonprofit organizations, become financially stable, and build an endowment fund to support our organization’s future.
Collaborative programs flourish with Lansing School District, Peckham, Impression-5 and more. Celebrating 10 years of public art programming, we’ve inspired hundreds of thousands of people in Lansing with public art initiatives and compensated artists over $100,000. Capacity-building efforts have yielded annual positive growth and enabled our Board of Directors, staff, and stakeholders to collectively make our mission a reality. Two dedicated funds have been established to support our work with over $50,000 total, one endowed at the Capital Region Community Foundation.
COVID-19 arrived, shutting down programming and in-person activities. Gallery Staff took on the challenge, of creating new online programming, creating an online store, and hosting virtual exhibitions. We were still able to install ArtPath and hold outdoor activities.
We moved and opened the Gallery in the historic Knapp's Building. The new space offered above-ground exhibition space, natural light, and more room.
ArtPath, our public art installation along the Lansing River Trail, celebrated its 5th anniversary. This project has become a mainstay and attracts visitors from across the Midwest.
We said good-bye to long-time Executive Director Barb Whitney and welcomed Michelle Carlson.