Lansing-area artists use bridges as their canvas
When a bridge on campus needed repairing, MSU had two options: fix the bridge, or fix the bridge with some flair.
MSU chose the latter. The Public Art on Campus Committee, responsible for the placement and maintenance of artwork at MSU, held a contest where students could submit ideas for artistic railings for the bridge. Interior design senior Gavin Kata heard about the contest and submitted a series of sketches, an ode to the Red Cedar through changing seasons.
"I received an email about it from my advising office," Kata said. "I kind of knew of the area and I felt like I had a good connection to that area, and so I came up with this idea of having the four seasons as being the bridge panels there."
Kata's series of panels was chosen for production, winning him $2,500 to help offset tuition costs. The bridge was fitted with an adapted version of Kata's original design, focusing on his autumn sketches. Fitting into the "Water Moves MSU" theme of the year, Kata's ideas were incorporated into the bridge's design, to be seen by anyone who crossed the Red Cedar near the Main Library and Spartan Stadium.
"It's a great honor to have that displayed in such a prominent area on campus," Kata said. "I was kind of blown away by the scale of it when I first saw it, it was just amazing."
The contest was "a win, win, win proposition" — a necessary infrastructure project that could involve students and add a touch of creativity, Infrastructure Planning and Facilities Campus Planner Stephen Troost said.
Troost is a member of the Public Art on Campus Committee. According to him, one of the criteria the committee uses in determining what will be displayed is that artwork should be integrated into the architectural and green space planning for the campus. Troost believes it is important to keep art's functionality in mind on projects like these, as people do pay attention to the artistic elements in infrastructure.
"Whether it is 'in your face' or something much more subjective, our lives are positively impacted by the arts at many different levels," Troost said in an email. "From state transportation departments, to the design of transportation facilities ... to pop-up exhibitions, the incorporation of art is beneficial if not expected."
The idea that art can liven up residents' daily routines is one that seems to be taking hold in the region. Kata's artwork over the Red Cedar is not the only, or even the first, bridge makeover in the Lansing area this year.
Over the summer, the Under the Bridge project transformed the US-127 overpass at Michigan Avenue into a mural-slash-light show, in hopes of attracting more MSU students over Lansing city lines. The overpass serves as a sort of unofficial border between the two cities, a border that before the project was described as "sterile, ugly and non-bikeable."
Lansing artist Brian Whitfield, a four-time ArtPrize participant, was commissioned to paint the murals, which depict settings relating to both Lansing and East Lansing. He described the pre-renovation underpass as a "barrier" to students crossing into Lansing, something he wanted to see changed. Having had past experience painting murals, Whitfield responded to the city's call for artists with a mix of excitement and ambition.
"I live right near the area, so (the bridge) is kind of right in my backyard," Whitfield said. "I just thought it was an exciting challenge. I've done murals before, so it's just that kind of fit right within what I do. I was a little nervous, but I wanted to try to step up to that challenge."
Whitfield, a graphic designer with the Michigan Department of Transportation, said part of the inspiration for joining the project was in his personal appreciation for aesthetically pleasing infrastructure. He agrees art can play a major role in improving quality of life in an area, an idea he's seen MDOT take note of throughout his career.
"When I'm traveling down the highway, landscaping always strikes me; if it's nicely landscaped, I'm always affected," Whitfield said. "It makes my drive much nicer, I feel much better. ... It's always nice to have a nice design, a pleasing experience interacting with the area."
Under the Bridge was successful in shifting public opinion on the Michigan Avenue corridor, Whitfield said. This is something that he believes not only boosts Lansing's economic potential, but residents' everyday lives.
"Talking to the people on this project, they feel better walking and biking and jogging and commuting through the area," Whitfield said. "They like walking under the bridge now instead of having to avoid it; it was kind of dull and dingy. It had a definite impact on the way that people feel about the community."