Recently, The State News editorial board ran an opinion piece, “Students, not art, define East Lansing,” that argues the city should focus all its attention on the student community in East Lansing because it is defined by its college students and is a “typical college town.” It also argues East Lansing should not refer to itself as a ‘City of the Arts’ and falsely supports this argument by stating the only evidence of East Lansing being a ‘City of the Arts’ is the new Broad museum, a sign on an abandoned building and the empty Barnes & Noble space where community events are held.
I could not disagree more with the premise of this editorial. East Lansing is a richly diverse community with students, young families, professionals, empty nesters and seniors. The city is challenged with a balancing act of serving all of these community members and, while the students are an important part, they are not the only part of this community. I agree a town is defined by its people, but what The State News does not seem to acknowledge is that the 50,000 college students who call East Lansing home are not the only people who call East Lansing home.
My response to this editorial is not meant to be a slight on students. We are so fortunate to be the home of MSU and the students are a big part of what makes our community successful. But the people who have chosen to live here long-term are not to be overlooked or undervalued.
As for the ‘City of the Arts’ argument, East Lansing has done a lot over the years to create an artistically rich community. We host one of the top 100 juried art festivals in the nation and are also home to a two-day jazz festival, a folk festival and a year-long series of community events. In downtown alone we have the Grove Gallery Artist Co-op, (SCENE) Metrospace, Saper Galleries and Mackerel Sky. We also have an art gallery and an active youth theater group as well as a library art gallery and more than 20 pieces of public art throughout the community. You couple all of this with the Eli & Edythe Broad Art Museum and the Wharton Center and you can’t ignore that arts and cultural offerings are plentiful in the East Lansing community. We proudly installed the ‘City of the Arts’ banner in downtown, not as a way of completely redefining this City or ignoring the fact that we are a university community, but as a way to welcome the Broad on its opening weekend and to build on the excitement it has brought to this community.
Why does East Lansing have to be one thing over the other? Why can’t we be the ‘Home of Michigan State University’ and a ‘City of the Arts’? Why can’t we continue to embrace our green-and-white Spartan pride, while also working to make the downtown an appealing place for all of our community members, as well as visitors? It’s a balancing act, and I don’t see why we can’t be both.
George Lahanas, East Lansing City Manager