Featured Donor: Norm Charles

Norm Charles – Photography by Three Cats Photography

Norm Charles has been a fan of the Lansing Art Gallery and Education Center for decades.

From its days sharing space with BoarsHead Theater a former car dealership to the newest incarnation just steps from the Capitol, Charles appreciates everything the organization brings to the greater Lansing community.

“When I started supporting the gallery about 30 years ago, it was a nice place for artists to hang their art and get recognition and support,” Charles said. “It’s grown over the years and, more importantly, grown into a significant arts education center. I’ve been so impressed.”

A number of years ago, Charles lost his daughter, Elizabeth, who he describes as an outspoken advocate of equality and someone who enjoyed the arts.

“She’d get huffed up at school if someone was treating someone badly because they were different,” he said.

She was also a believer in the arts as a vehicle for self-expression and a way to develop a deeper understanding of humanity.

“That got me interested in supporting student artists and finding a means to institutionalize that support in a way that would reflect those values and keep her memory alive,” he said.

When he attended the Lansing Art Gallery and Education Center’s Collegiate exhibition in 2019, he began chatting with a student from Traverse City who was featured in the show. The artist talked about an opportunity they had to go to Oxford that summer to study, but they were unsure they could go because they were not able to afford it.

“My friend Phyllis Mellon and I looked at each other and said, ‘This kid cannot NOT go to Oxford for lack of a few bucks,’ ” Charles said.

Charles and Mellon quickly approached Barb Whitney, the gallery’s executive director, and – as Charles describes it – “on the fly” created an emerging artist scholarship. The student applied and received the first award.

In the months to follow, Charles and Mellon officially established the Elizabeth Charles Emerging Artist Grant in Charles’ daughter’s memory to support Michigan-based emerging visual artists. The scholarship emphasizes awarding artists whose work emphasizes enhancing awareness and equity across race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or ethnicity.

It’s also the Lansing Art Gallery and Education Center’s first endowed fund.

“It’s a permanent fund that will award a scholarship every year,” Charles said. “It’s nice to see that friends have added to it as well.”

Charles said he’s grateful the Lansing Art Gallery and Education Center is exposing people of all ages to a wide variety of visual arts.

“Art is such a great thing for society in general,” he said. “It has great value, it brings joy to people, it encourages thoughtfulness. I’m so glad the Lansing Art Gallery is here to encourage that. I can’t ever say enough about what a bang-up job Barb and her staff are doing.

“Exposing our community to art is so important.”

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