Three years’ work culminates in Project Re-stART unveiling

November 23, 2015

On Wednesday, October 28, a crowd of people took shelter from a deluge of rain in a white tent at Windemere Park Charter Academy.

Still, the rain dampened no spirits as Lansing residents, Michigan State University faculty, Lansing Circuit Court officials and students came together for the long-awaited unveiling of Project Re-stART.

Project Re-stART is a community art installation consisting of mosaicked barricades strung with chains of painted butterflies.

For three years, youth from Peckham, Inc. and students from Michigan State University’s College of Engineering and Residential College in the Arts and Humanities have been working together with a number of community partners to pull it off.  

In all, more than 100 Lansing youth were involved in the project. The mosaics were created by Next Step participants, Lansing youth aged 18 to 21 who had been in the juvenile court system. The butterflies were painted by students at Riddle Elementary. Michigan State University students helped to plan the workshops as well as the installation.

Andreas Rentsch, 20, is a participant in the Next Step program. He worked on the seasons mosaic.

“The theme is growth and how the seasons come and go,” he said. “I learned a lot. It helped me grow more as a person and young adult.”

The project has evolved over time from a mural to mosaics and has included a number of RCAH students, some serving as interns and some helping out in classes. 

RCAH professor Terese Monberg has been involved with the project since the beginning. She, along with RCAH professors, wanted to figure out how to continue RCAH’s collaboration with Peckham that began with Art@Work.

“I just felt like this was a particular population that needed something,” she said of the Next Step participants. “They needed a project that would keep them invested in themselves and see themselves as members of the community and leaders. People who could potentially transform the community. It’s reclaiming Lansing as a place that’s home, a place that could benefit from what they have to offer. I was committed to making sure something happened for that group.”

So, Monberg decided to teach a civic engagement course in which RCAH students would help design, create and install a community art project.

“They really had to take the lead on working with the Next Step coordinators and youth to develop this project,” Monberg said. “It was an emerging program. They had to help build what it would look like and teach the curriculum and draw out of students how they thought about Lansing.”

Recent RCAH graduate Jillian Coy had been involved in Art@Work, and she also interned at Peckham. Her main role in Project Re-stART was helping to coordinate the arts programming.

Coy said her time with Project Re-stART reinforced the concepts she was learning in her RCAH classes.

“This project is really important for me personally and the community. I think sometimes we need reminders that we do have things to offer and we can band together and made a difference. It’s really cool to be a part of that,” Coy said.

Later, other RCAH classes got involved, too. Students Marcus Fields and Elizabeth Martin began working with Peckham through the Cultures of Creativity study away program in Detroit. They teamed up with engineering students to put the skills they had learned in Detroit to use.

Like Coy, Fields helped to coordinate the arts programming. He says his time working with project Re-stART has given him valuable skills he can use as an arts management student.

“What we all learned about civic engagement was we can’t just throw a project at them and tell them this is it. For a project to be successful, it needs to come from the community,” Fields said. “We all live here. It’s more powerful when the next step participants – who designed and envisioned the idea – when they’re right there with the people who can help them who have skills in engineering and arts and humanities and can work with them to make their ideas successful.”

Martin spent most of her time working on the engineering side of things – finding materials and figuring out how to install the barricades at Windemere.

After they’d finalized the idea, it was up to Martin and the other students to build models of their designs to see if the idea would actually work.

“It was frustrating at first, because you’ve got it in your head but through the steps of prototyping and actual designs, you encounter problems,” Martin said. “As we were coming up with solutions, a lot of them were not feasible. Some of them were great ideas but they’d be way out of our budget or we wouldn’t be factoring in weather conditions or possible hazards like vandalism, or we weren’t thinking about the users (people who would come to view the art) at the time.”

Fields says he hopes Project Re-stART has helped the participants become more involved with the Lansing community.

“They make the change they want to see in the community. It really makes a place where people want to stay, live and learn,” Fields said.

The mosaics continue to be displayed near Windemere at 3100 W. Saginaw in Lansing free of charge.

Story by RCAH student Kelsey Block, photos by Samantha Kinjorski and Jillian Coy. Barrier sketch provided by Marcus Fields.