Local Organizer Highlights Ethnic Businesses In Downtown Lansing

Dec 19, 2020

A local organization is working to highlight emerging ethnic businesses and artists in the area with curated pop-up shops in downtown Lansing.

LanArtBus was started this year with the goal of bringing attention to businesses owned by ethnic minorities and attracting customers who don’t usually venture into downtown Lansing.  

WKAR's Michelle Jokisch Polo spoke with Siso Dhladhla, the founder of LanArtBus and the organizer of these events. 

Interview Highlights

On What Block Market Events Are & What They Are Trying To Accomplish

Block Market is a name that I settled upon, because block is a way of referencing the neighborhood, taking a walk around the block. It also talks about the community aspect. I liken it to cheers and how the intro song says everybody wants to go somewhere where people know your name and the sensation of being able to walk my neighborhood streets and be familiar with business owners, other residents, even homeless people and the police officers. It's my block. Hopefully other people feel that way about their neighborhood. And market is definitely an entrepreneurial and business oriented word. And I'm all about increasing and promoting business in my neighborhood, hence block market.

On When And Where The Next Block Market Will Take Place

It is going on Saturday and Sunday December 19 and 20th at 320 North Capital Street, that is at the former Gibson's Books and Beans. The reason why this is so significant is for a long time, this property has sat vacant, and instead of addressing it as an eyesore, and speaking primarily on how it is empty -- we're considering how can we activate it? How can we energize it? How can we look at it for the potential that it has.

Interview Transcript:

Michelle Jokisch Polo: You’re listening to WKAR, I’m Michelle Jokisch Polo.

A local organization is working to highlight emerging ethnic businesses and artists in the area with curated pop-up shops in downtown Lansing.

LanArtBus was started this year with the goal of bringing attention to businesses owners who are ethnic minorities and bringing residents who don’t usually venture into downtown, to downtown Lansing.  

Siso Dhladhla is the founder of LanArtBus. He joins me now. Thanks for being here, Siso. 

Siso Dhladhla: Thank you for having me. 

Michelle Jokisch Polo: Tell us about LanArtBus and why it's important for you to get these businesses to be in spaces in downtown Lansing? 

Siso Dhladhla: Sure, a quick overview of land art bus is that it is really three of my favorite words put together, and a definition of what I do: LAN ART BUS is short for Lansing Art Business. I'm from Lansing. I'm trained as an artist and a designer, and I am really interested in business and entrepreneurship.

Michelle Jokisch Polo: Siso, tell me why Lansing?

Siso Dhladhla: Michelle, I'm from Lansing. In the same way I didn't choose the family that I was born into. I did not choose the city where I was from. I'm constantly saying that I would probably feel this way about anywhere that I was born. I happen to be born in Lansing. My name is a Zulu name. I was given by my grandmother. I was born around the time Nelson Mandela was freed from prison. So that name means blessing. A blessing to myself to my family and those around me. And wherever I'm at, I try to bring value and be a blessing. So like it or not, Lansing is stuck with me while I'm here, trying to make it the best that I can.

Michelle Jokisch Polo: Your pop-up events are called Block Markets. Tell us about them and what you’re trying to accomplish?  

Siso Dhladhla: Block Market is a name that I settled upon, because block is a way of referencing the neighborhood, taking a walk around the block. It also talks about the community aspect. I liken it to "Cheers" and how the intro song says everybody wants to go somewhere where people know your name; and the sensation of being able to walk my neighborhood streets and be familiar with business owners, other residents, even homeless people and the police officers. It's my block.

Hopefully other people feel that way about their neighborhood. And market is definitely an entrepreneurial and business oriented word. And I'm all about increasing and promoting business in my neighborhood, hence Block Market.

Michelle Jokisch Polo: Siso, tell me when this event is going to happen and where it's going to be at? 

Siso Dhladhla: It is going on Saturday and Sunday December 19 and 20th at 320 North Capital Street that is at the former Gibson's Books and Beans.

The reason why this is so significant is for a long time, this property has sat vacant, and instead of addressing it as an eyesore, and speaking primarily on how it is empty -- what is going on is we're considering how can we activate it? How can we energize it? How can we look at it for the potential that it has?  So we have a pop-up that's going on in this location to address the aspect from that point of view.

Michelle Jokisch Polo: Tell me more what it's been like organizing a pop-up market during a pandemic? 

Siso Dhladhla: I would not have been able to do any kind of organization with these pop-ups without the assistance of a very vibrant intellectual and experienced Black woman named Najeema Iman.

Najeema is the definition of the kind of person that I believe my neighborhood should be filled with. Primarily because she is heavily invested in seeing the Lansing area grow and develop. When she sees Lansing she sees potential.

The reason this sticks out to me is because people who are normally from where she's from don't feel that way about Lansing. She'll be the first one to tell you she's Queen's born, Detroit raised and eventually she made her way to Lansing. What that means is she brings the hustle and bustle of New York and she brings the grit and attitude of Detroit and she has made her space here in Lansing. And like stereotypical Detroiters when she first came all she could do was identify Lansing's shortcomings in comparison to Detroit. But what she did was she stayed here, she became invested.

She saw the potential and now now she wants to take her connections, her cultural awareness, as well as her entrepreneurial experience and instead of taking it back to Detroit, or take it back to New York, she wants to root it deeper and deeper in the Lansing culture. And that is the kind of person that I believe will make Lansing what it can be. 

Michelle Jokisch Polo: Siso Dhladhla is the founder of LanArtBus. 

Their next block party event takes places today and tomorrow  from 11 am to 5 pm at Gibson’s Books and Beans in Downtown Lansing.

Thank you for joining me. 

Siso Dhladhla: I appreciate it.