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Rubin: In South Lyon, art hangs out at city hall

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News
Sisters of the Brush created artworks that are on display at the South Lyon City Hall.

It was the accountant on the City Council who made the convincing pitch for art — for spending $7,000 to create a gallery for people to walk through on their way to pay their taxes.

There was already strong interest, says Josie Kearns, who chairs the South Lyon Cultural Arts Commission. Nobody loves a philistine.

But there was also concern about investing in lighting, in the gray panels that hold artworks in the middle of the building’s atrium, in the clever system that can hang paintings from wall-mounted rails, and in establishing the all-volunteer commission in the first place.

Then the accounted pointed out that “If it doesn’t work out, we can sell it.” Not the commission, but the hardware, and that was all it took for South Lyon to officially embrace painting, pottery, poetry, and anything else that can perk up citizens’ lives on an annual budget of $2,525.

Now the gallery in the inviting atrium between the school district headquarters and city hall is hosting its first professional show.

Local schoolkids have been well represented, and have represented well, across the past 31/2 years. The paintings and prints by the eight members of a group called Sisters of the Brush represent an evolutionary step, not to mention an arresting stop.

“It’s the focal point for everyone to stop and enjoy,” says district superintendent Melissa Baker. “It’s exciting for us to have this artwork here — that we all want to take home.”

The five dozen paintings are mostly watercolors and mostly $200 or less. Wrapping up three weeks on display, they’ll be guests of honor at a free 1-3 p.m. reception Saturday at city hall, 335 S. Warren.

Eight will be auctioned on behalf of a group called Blessings in a Backpack that helps feed local children.

All are part of a gentle push to provide a playing field for creativity.

“It’s always going to be a bit of a struggle,” concedes city council member Maggie Kurtzweil, to make cultural activities a priority. “But South Lyon has met with some success in giving these things wings.”

When art’s smart

South Lyon, population 12,000 or so, is large enough to have two high schools and small enough to have a cider mill with a corn maze.

Yvonne Thigpen moved there from Fraser in October. “I went on the South Lyon website and said, ‘They have a fine arts society. This is really cool!’”

Thigpen is the link between the city hall gallery and the Sisters of the Brush, who met while taking watercolor classes from the late Susan Kell at Paint Creek Center for the Arts in Rochester.

They meet monthly to critique one another’s work and wish there were more places like South Lyon, where a survey of residents that will wrap up this month has already shown support for public sculptures and an arts festival.

Last summer, more than 300 people packed a park on a Tuesday night to see a reproduction from the DIA’s Inside/Out program and listen to a string quartet called Go for Baroque.

Other programs have involved painting and poetry readings at brew pubs, making a good thing even better whether your primary focus is Pointillism or pilsner.

Sometimes you bring people to the arts, sometimes you bring the arts to people.

It’s surprising what you can do with $2,525 — a sum that covers, among other things, posters for events, a few snacks at receptions, and a booth at the not-to-be-missed South Lyon Area Pumpkinfest.

Artist Yvonne Thigpen has several pieces currently on display.

Painting, by the numbers

If a few people go from observing the arts to participating in them, so much the better. The field could use an image upgrade.

Tammy Impullitti, who’s both an arts commissioner and the vice president of the fine arts society, paints murals for fun and profit.

As she works, she hears parents squelching enthusiastic children: “Oh, honey, artists don’t make any money.”

Usually, she bites her brush handle and stays quiet, but not long ago she overheard something similar from a parent she actually knew.

“I just got paid $150 to do an 8-by-10 watercolor,” she said. “Took me about two hours. Are you sure you don’t want your daughter to do this?”

The effect, Impullitti concedes, was undetermined. But the accountant on the city council would have been impressed.