Monday, Oct. 16 members of the Eaton Rapids Arts Council, city employees, local business owners, and Eaton Rapids creatives gathered in the city council chambers at City Hall to participate in a presentation from the Greater Lansing Arts Council. “Creating Place” was an opportunity to learn about how the Greater Lansing Arts Council rejuvenated Old Town Lansing, what they’re still doing to bring artistic life to the Lansing area, and how Eaton Rapids can breathe life into the community through art.

About 20 people from Eaton Rapids listened to the presentation from the Arts Council of Greater Lansing and then participated in times of input, feedback, and voting. The meeting lasted three hours, and in the end the group narrowed down a broad list of ideas to one community art project.

While the prospect of a large community art project is exciting, the project is far from ready to reveal, and it may change completely or be abandoned all together. The point of the evening was not to choose one absolute project plan, but rather to gather a range of ideas and discuss how Eaton Rapids could best be marketed.

The executive director of Greater Lansing Arts Council, Deborah Mikula, has helped dozens of cities get their creative wheels moving. She simply desired to equip the Eaton Rapids residents with the tools to discover their town’s selling points. Common points of interest like being an island city came up several times throughout the evening.

“It’s getting you back together to connect the dots and get things moving again,” said Deborah about the evening. “We build on our strengths and resolve our weaknesses.”

Finding points of strength was only one part of SWOT analysis process. (Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) After going through the SWOT small groups gathered and brainstormed ideas for art projects within the $5,000 and below price range, then the $5,000 to $75,000 price range, and then the unlikely but fun unlimited price range. There was no intention of going through an actual arts council budget during the evening. The price range brainstorming portion of the evening simply allowed participants to share ideas they’d long had, or ideas they created together.

The last portion of the evening was spent using small stickers to vote on favored project ideas. Mikula and her coworker Meghan Martin will be returning to Eaton Rapids in several weeks to continue discussing and walking through the process of initiating and gathering support for a large community project.

The chair of the Eaton Rapids Arts Council, Chris Sebastian, believes the most important outcome of the evening was a sense of direction. There’s a desire for art that will draw visitors to Eaton Rapids, and now they’re being equipped to see that desire to fruition.

“There’s a swell of the community really wanting something to happen,” said Quality of Life Director, Troy Stowell. “I think getting the citizens buy-in on a vision is key to begin with. I can help facilitate some of that, but it takes a village to revitalize a downtown.”