During the early 1980s young artists discovered a neighborhood in Lansing that had the city’s highest concentration of historic buildings, but had been mostly abandoned. They began renting and buying properties for studios, art galleries and performance space. In 1984, a group of these artists formed the North Lansing Art Association (NLAA) which was renamed the Old Town Business & Art Development Association (OTBADA) to eventually become the Michigan Institute for Contemporary Art (MICA) with a mission to catalyze community transformation through the arts.
The area known as Old Town is located on a Native American trail along the Grand River in what is now Lansing, Michigan, which was charted and plotted by U.S. surveyors in 1825. The land was purchased in 1835 and 1836 by several investors, including the New York land speculators James Seymour and Jacob Cooley. The land was sold in 1845 to pioneers who built a sawmill and held religious services in a cabin. After the Michigan legislature in 1947 decided to move the state capitol from Detroit to Lansing the area grew rapidly. For another 100 years, the area fl ourished enriched with the addition with the hispanic community. But, like many American cities in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the neighborhood began losing residents, businesses, and customers as more people moved to the suburbs. The area languished as many storefronts, businesses, homes and buildings became vacant and were abandoned and boarded up.
Between 1978 and 1990, artists and young entrepreneurs started restoring many of the district’s historic buildings.
During the early 1990’s, visioning sessions led by the Business & Art Development Association, coordinated by MessageMakers and supported by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation were held to frame the values, identify key assets and develop a vision for the district. A special effort was made to engage a wide array of stakeholders from the neighborhood, including artists, property owners, business owners, residents, local and regional governments, the universities, historians, architects and other talents and resources from around the state and country. During the visioning process, they named the neighborhood Old Town, acknowledging its historical significance to the region and focused on developing the art, retail and creative services sectors with an emphasis on enhancing an arts-centric community.
The organization also partnered with Michigan State University's Center for Community Economic Development to conduct their first Community Income and Expenditure Model Study (CIEM) to gain insight into the district’s income and expenditure ‘leakages’ and begin to identify ways to grow and retain income.
OtherWise Art Gallery was opened in 1992 as the organization’s headquarters. OtherWise showcased the works of artists from around the world. It hosted poetry events and for seven years was a venue for live concerts, featuring the first public performances by many startup, basement and garage bands.
In 1994 MICA produced its first big music festival, the Art & OctoberFest and in 1995 its first Lansing JazzFest and years later started Michigan BluesFest.
In 1995, MICA wrote a grant and obtained funding from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation to enable Old Town to be among the first six urban Mainstreet communities in the United States. To manage the Mainstreet program, MICA helped start the Old Town Commercial Association (OTCA) in 1996 and worked to obtain funding from the City of Lansing and the Principal Shopping District to support the startup phase of the Mainstreet program.
During that same time and on the urging of then Mayor David Hollister, MICA restored a set of three buildings, which included low and moderate income loft apartments, a business incubator, and offi ces, These buildings are now home for the Arts Council of Greater Lansing, MICA and MICA Art Gallery.
MICA is recognized for innovative programming and is a recipient of numerous awards including the Governor’s ArtServe Award, Festival & Events Association awards, Addy awards, the Creative Community Award and many more.
A 501(c)3 federally tax-exempt nonprofi t organization, it has a robust volunteer base, maintains stable volunteer leadership and provides programs for the benefi t of the entire community. It is funded through the support of sponsors, donations and grants.
For more than three decades, MICA has been producing music festivals, helping preserve and restore historic buildings, leading community revitalization efforts, exhibiting visual artists, coordinating poetry, dance and other performances that engage, inspire, catalyze and demonstrate the vitality and value of the arts community and the vibrancy of the urban centers as a great places to play, work and live.