Brian Whitfield’s energetic, vibrant artwork displays influences of jazz and graphic design. As a Lansing native on the Lansing Art Gallery and Education Center’s board of directors, he brings his perspective as a fine artist to the table, providing a voice for Michigan’s creative community.
Whitfield graduated from Lansing Sexton High School and headed to Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids to study Illustration. New graduates have their work featured in a show at the college, but Whitfield couldn’t participate.
“Instead, I had my thesis show at the Lansing Art Gallery, back when it was located in the Center for the Arts with the BoarsHead Theater,” he said. “Having my first show be in an actual gallery rather than at the college was really exciting.”
As many people who grew up loving art will tell you, it’s often hard to convince parents that art can be a viable career.
“My dad came from a pretty traditional background – you go to school, you get a job,” Whitfield said. “He was a little worried about me finding a job as an artist. He’d say, ‘What can you do with art?’”
Whitfield’s father, Alvin, worked for the state of Michigan. He saw how people were paying attention to his son’s work, so he started getting interested in the art scene as well.
“He became one of my biggest supporters,” Whitfield said. “He stopped worrying so much about me surviving as an artist and really supported my career.”
Alvin became such a big supporter of the arts that he joined the Lansing Art Gallery’s board. He served for 12 years.
Whitfield, a graphic artist for the Michigan Department of Transportation and a seven-time participant in Grand Rapids’ annual ArtPrize festival, joined the board in 2017. He works extensively on his own art, creating personal pieces as well as large-scale murals throughout greater Lansing. You can see four of his murals under the bridge on Michigan Avenue between Homer and Howard streets.
If you’re looking for someone who lives and breathes Lansing art, it’s Whitfield.
“I wish people knew how much the Lansing Art Gallery has to offer,” Whitfield said. “There are so many events and activities open to everyone, and I wish, especially, that teens 13 to 17 in the minority communities would get involved.”
Part of what he hopes to do as a board member is help raise the Lansing Art Gallery and Education Center’s visibility for those who aren’t as engaged with its work.
Whitfield said the recent shift toward large-scale public art, particularly centered around the Black Lives Matter movement, is fascinating and important.
“When we think about art, we think about things on walls, but suddenly, we’re seeing people painting giant letters and art on the streets,” he said. “And then you see things like the little girl in Washington, D.C., who was filmed doing a rollerblading performance on the Black Lives Matter street mural, and you see the combination of art and activism. It was so beautiful.”
Whitfield said the Lansing Art Gallery and Education Center plays a key role in elevating public art into these crucial conversations through ARTpath and other community efforts.
“It’s important for the entire community to see the value in the Lansing Art Gallery and Education Center and to trust that it’s interested in making the arts accessible for everyone.”