In the early spring of 2013, as I worked my last 9 months of a three year project to walk every street in Lansing, I had no idea what my next step would be. I had thought maybe the city would hire me for my accumulated data collected while walking all 537 miles of the city. I thought maybe I could concentrate on my photography business, Ariniko Artistry. I had prayed many times for a studio to begin portrait work. In April of 2013 I booked my soon to be created City Saunter Exhibit at Art Alley in REO Town. I spent the rest of the spring and summer finishing the walking, creating prints and buying frames. My fundraising endeavors had helped make this dream a possibility. I was incredibly excited to have my art from this three year project framed and hanging in a real gallery. Then in September 2013 the gallery group that promised to hang my art moved out. I wasn’t given a warning, they actually never contacted me. I was told by a friend who was in the same building. After the shock, I went into action and per advice from many friends; I called and arranged to rent the same space that had once been Art Alley directly from the landlord.
I paid for 3 weeks and signed a lease with the management group. Running the exhibit there for 3 weeks was amazing. My husband and I packed up our computers from our home offices and drove to our new REO Town office on weekdays. I immediately felt at home in the space. I loved watching all the walkers go by my window on their way to local eateries or school. I loved the artistic sense in the area and the growing hunger to bring more to the location. While in my space I met the other renters who all had small businesses. I met Kathaleen Parker who owns Soulful Earth Herbals who had the other window space next to me.
I met Paul Starr who ran I’m a Beer Hound in one of the smaller offices. In the next office was Paul Schmidt, owner of UnoDeuce Multimedia, who I knew from Market Lansing events. Good Fruit Video owners, Justin Caine and Kraig Westfall rounded out the tenants on the lower level of 1133 & 1131 S. Washington Ave. All of these people became fast, close friends. We spoke about small business, REO Town, networking, art and family regularly. We encouraged each other and supported each other. We even worked for and with each other.
When my lease time came to an end I had a decision to make. I had floated the idea by the landlord of staying on full time to attempt to recreate what Art Alley had been doing. He was excited about that idea and asked me to consider it. Both of us were already fielding questions about folks desiring to use the space for events and dancing. He asked me to manage the space and I decided to do just that. I had really wanted a photography studio for myself and to share with photographers and this would be perfect for that. When events weren’t booked, photographers could come in hourly to rent the space for their business. I created a new name, AA Creative Corridor (with the AA representing Art Alley as well as Ariniko Artistry and Creative Corridor was a synonym for Art Alley), a website, and a Facebook page and began marketing this space as a creative rental space in the heart of REO Town. For 3 years I booked, hosted, and cleaned up after countless birthday parties, holiday parties, anniversaries, weddings, business meetings, artistic exhibits, pop up markets, open houses, concerts, dancing and theatrical productions. I drove in from Haslett to let other photographers use the space, as well as comedian groups, yoga instructors, actors and musicians. I also was able to use the space as my studio for inside photography shoots.
I had great pride and joy knowing REO Town was becoming a destination location for many of the events I was booking. I had folks coming in from all over Michigan and for some events all over the country. I had a virtual architecture college exhibit with me with students meeting for the first time from Texas, California, Canada and Michigan. Many who came to AA Creative Corridor had never been to Lansing before. I would ask those who rented from me what brought them to AA Creative Corridor and was told over and over that it was right in the middle between Detroit and Grand Rapids; the perfect midpoint for families spread out across Michigan.
For almost four years I booked events, scheduled photographers and hung art for exhibits.
I spent the majority of my weekends in REO Town either working my events or volunteering at a REO Town event like Art Attack or Thrift Store Gala. I was voted onto the REO Town Commercial Association board in April 2015. In 2016 I was voted in as Vice President of the board. I took my role on the board very seriously and attended all meetings, volunteering when I could and joining the Business Development and Promotional subcommittees. I met business owners in the business district. I attended grand openings of new businesses. I virtually supported as many businesses as I could. I honestly delighted in being part of this wonderful community.
The passion Local REO Town people have for what they do surpasses anything I’ve seen before. I watched a strong core group build this community up every day. They built stages, giant signs, and picnic tables.
They established yearly events that keep growing year after year.
I watched every commercial spot fill in with another energized small business. And if one left another would take its place quickly. I watched hand-crafted signage go into place door after door. I watched Vintage Café close down only to be replaced soon after by the incredibly successful Saddleback Barbecue.
I watched Vintage Junkies, The Nook and Thriftique move in along side St. Vincent De Paul and catapult REO Town into a second hand, vintage hot spot.
I watched Riverview Church move in, repairing an incredible worn out building and parking lot to a level of sophistication and grace perfect for REO Town. I watched the graffiti wall change face more times than I could count, providing the perfect backdrop for a portrait photographer.
I participated in the Arts and Craft Beer Festival for 4 years as both a venue and an artist. I watched Art Attack get bigger and better every year. This year we’re shutting the street down for the biggest one yet.
I watched Dylan and Jeana-Dee buy, rebuild and open The Robin Theatre to great success. Together our two venues have participated in multiple pop-up markets drawing even larger crowds to the area.
I watched Michigan Creative and Blue Owl move in, changing the dynamic of our quaint street.
I watched board members create a business entity to buy even more buildings. Their latest will host a pottery business, a music venue and a distillery. Each week there’s a new activity. Each week there’s something exciting. Each week I fall more in love with this part of the city, which makes what I have to do very, very difficult.
I am not good with change. Once I get a situation, a relationship or a lifestyle in place I stay quite loyal to it. The idea of making any change is frightening to me. So I do the simple thing, and stay, despite the arrangement being detrimental to my emotional and physical health. It became apparent to me at the beginning of this year, soon after being diagnosed with a deep vein thrombosis, a blood clot in my right calf, that I had worn myself out. I had put off working on any AA Creative Corridor since mid December so I could enjoy the holidays and my birthday. Before I was able to get caught up I was admitted to the hospital. I was then placed on multiple blood thinning medications. For a week I was queasy from the medicine and the shock of going to the hospital and having quite a few aspects of my personal life affected. By the time I was able to concentrate on booking events I’d gotten quite a bit behind. I worked really hard to get caught back up but the drain of the health situation, getting a new puppy and watching my 4 year old grandson had really started to wear on me. I kept pushing forward, hoping I’d get my footing again. I was booking multiple events from Thursday through Sunday almost solid through July. Sometimes the schedule had me on my feet for over 16 hours a day. I had hoped to bring someone on to help with the schedule. Unfortunately that was put on hold when an increase in the budget made that more complicated. As the year continued my emotional state had also changed. I found I was upset when someone called. I was agitated with each drive through Frandor. I was annoyed by things that never seemed to bother me before. I was burned out; really, really burned out. So I prayed. Through prayer it became evident that it was time for me to let this dream go. As heartbreaking as that has been for me to accept, I know it’s the right decision. I’ve been fighting with this for 3 months and it wasn’t even up until yesterday that I fully decided. I have come up with variation after variation to make it work or make it not work. Over the weekend a friend simply stated that I should make a pros and cons list. I had been doing this list in my head but hadn’t taken the time to write it out. So I did. Sure enough, my reasons to leave out weighed my reasons to stay. I was really saddened of the thought that I may lose my REO Town Board position. I was also concerned about the financial situation as we will not only lose the venue income but also my photography will take a hit from no longer having a studio to shoot in.
I’m hoping something else comes along or that I can find places to shoot in. On the other hand I am excited that I’ll finally have time to work on my City Saunter book which has been on hold since I finished the project in 2013. I am also excited about concentrating more time on Ariniko Artistry, which took a back seat to the gallery. I can’t wait to be home to spend weekends with my twins and my husband as well.
I will always treasure the almost 4 years I spent in REO Town. I met some of the most amazing people there, including business owners, patrons, photographers, artists and residents. My twins spent almost half their life with me managing this space. What an incredible adventure this district gave me and my family. With that, at the end of July I will gracefully depart from the REO Town district as the manager of AA Creative Corridor. The 1133 S. Washington Ave. space will then be exclusively used by Salsa Capital (2nd and 4th Friday) and the Speakeasy Stomp blues/swing dancers (formally known as Sugar House Blues and Sugar House Swing) that host dancing every 1st & 3rd Friday and Saturdays of the month.
To all the people I met while being a part of REO Town I honestly, from the bottom of my heart, want to thank you. Thank you for letting me in. Thank you for supporting me. Thank you for including me. Thank you for befriending me. Thank you for all that you did to help me create this wonderful venue space. I will miss this space and all of you more than anyone could ever put into words. Oh, REO Town! My REO Town, thank you, thank you, thank you!