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William Charland amplifies the stories of residents impacted by redlining | Lansing ArtPath Profiles

William Charland crouches on the ground in a field, holding a screw in his mouth as he drills another into a wooden post. The post has a red metal structure on top with children's blocks sitting in the middle.
Sophia Saliby
/
WKAR-MSU
William Charland placed four posts along a section of the Lansing River Trail as part of his piece, "Red Outlines."

Through Labor Day, you’ll see public art installations along the Lansing River Trail.

The pieces are a part of the 5th annual ArtPath exhibition from the Lansing Art Gallery and Education Center.

Participating artist William Charland got the idea to create his series of sculptures titled Red Outlines when he was working on a mural for ArtPath in 2020 under the I-496 bridge.

"I did the project two years ago and explored the neighborhood and had never really explored this neighborhood before. And it's charming, but it is broken up," he said. "Many houses that used to exist no longer exist as a result of the freeway."

This is a way of bringing together the contemporary research on the topic of urban renewal in Lansing and specifically the I-496 corridor.

Charland learned nearly 600 families and 60 businesses by some estimates were displaced from the area for the construction of I-496 in the 1960s.

The name of his piece comes from the practice of redlining. That’s when government programs and insurance companies deemed certain neighborhoods as “risky investments” and would then withhold services. These communities were often made up of low-income residents or people of color.

Charland sees his piece as educational.

"This is a way of bringing together the contemporary research on the topic of urban renewal in Lansing and specifically the I-496 corridor."

To do that, he compiled reporting from outlets like the Lansing State Journal as well as research from Michigan State University students with the Lansing Urban Renewal Project.

"There are 16 different QR codes. Each takes you to a different story of a specific address, or a specific family or some more general ideas about redlining and its effects," he said.

A ceramic teacup is secured on its side on top of a wooden post, around it is red metal bent in a geometric shape of a house. The post is in a grassy field.
Courtesy
/
Lansing Art Gallery and Education Center
A teacup is one of the objects Charland selected to symbolize the daily life of residents impacted by redlining and the construction of I-496.

The QR codes are placed on the bases of the 4 pieces he built.

They’re wooden posts that resemble the support columns of what might have been at the foot of a staircase in the Victorian-style homes once built in the area.

"It was the first architectural detail that would greet you as you come in the door. You'd throw your jacket on the newel post. It’d be the last thing you'd touch as you came downstairs for breakfast."

On top of each post, Charland has crafted in thin red metal the outline of a house. They’re empty except for a small object meant to symbolize the daily life of the residents that had been pushed out: a teacup, a stack of poker chips, a pile of buttons and some children's blocks.

Charland says the pieces, as a whole, tell a story that some Lansing residents today may have forgotten about or never knew to begin with.

I want them to know about the families whose lives were manipulated by the realtors and the insurance companies and the local government, and then upended when their property was designated as expendable.

"I want people to be informed. I want them to know about the families whose lives were manipulated by the realtors and the insurance companies and the local government, and then upended when their property was designated as expendable."

As a white artist, Charland says he’s aware of his privilege in telling a story about something that primarily impacted people of color in Lansing.

"This story shows really clearly that the white neighborhoods were privileged. As a white male artist, though, I think it's everybody's responsibility to call out injustice."

He also says it’s important to continue to talk about the trauma of the neighborhood being destroyed. That's as it’s passed down to the descendants of those who were displaced several generations ago.

Another wooden post as part of Charland's Red Outlines piece. A stack of poker chips sits on the post. A QR code is also placed in the center of the post. Behind it is a drain outlet and a grassy hill.
Sophia Saliby
/
WKAR-MSU
Poker chips on one of the posts symbolizes the social gatherings that may have occurred between friends and neighbors in the area impacted by the construction of I-496.

"The effects are still being felt unless it's addressed and redressed."

To Charland, what ultimately makes his piece special is that it can’t be installed anywhere but this spot along the River Trail.

"It's site specific, and so, it exists in the same neighborhood that it describes and talks about. So, to put it someplace else would remove a certain level of meaning from it."

You can find William Charland’s installation Red Outlines on a part of the trail near the I-496 overpass.

Sophia Saliby is the local producer and host of All Things Considered, airing 4pm-7pm weekdays on 90.5 FM WKAR.
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