MSU students explore the positive impact of Lansing graffiti
“I find it really interesting that art and creativity can have such a tangible impact on a community,” said Brooke Hawkins, senior English and professional writing major and member of the 517*Theory research group.
Hawkins, along with fellow research students Mike Kulick, Ethan Tate and Jesse Whitmill, has been trying to measure exactly how much of a positive impact graffiti can have on community by studying the REO Town district of Lansing.
“We are mainly focusing on REO Town and how they are using graffiti in interesting and creative ways to help rebrand them as a creative community,” Hawkins said. “It’s very interesting how something that’s typically subversive or negative is being reinterpreted in these positive ways for the community.”
Danielle DeVoss, professor of professional writing who helped organize the group, said she first noticed the impact graffiti was having on the area after seeing large crowds of people at the abandoned Deluxe Inn while driving home on South Washington Avenue.
“I tend to have intellectual ADHD; everything interests me,” DeVoss said. “Over a period of a week it just emerged as this vibrant, beautiful artistic space, and I thought, ‘something has to be said about this; something needs to be done.’”
DeVoss said the project began when a local graffiti artist who was facing punishment for illegally tagging a building petitioned to create a community project as his punishment. The City of Lansing decided to let him and other artists graffiti the Deluxe Inn for a couple weeks before it was scheduled to be torn down.
“The building is torn down now, but different pieces from the structure have been repurposed in REO Town,” Hawkins said. “Business owners have been utilizing the graffiti art as well and kind-of paying to have some sanctioned work done on walls in the city.”
DeVoss said projects like this can help to save urban cities like Lansing that may be struggling to retain their youth.
“I think we are in the midst of seeing urban centers change significantly, and they have to change significantly to attract young people,” DeVoss said. “I think if we want to make vibrant spaces, we have to be willing to say to young people and artists, ‘OK, we are going to meet you half way and let’s make this space our own as a community.’”