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Downtown Lansing traffic light boxes become canvas for local artists

Lightbox becomes canvas for local art
Posted at 9:04 PM, Jul 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-01 10:10:58-04

LANSING, Mich. — Dennis Preston always knew he was going to be an artist.

“I started drawing basically in first grade, and I knew right then that’s what I wanted to do," Preston said. "I knew I wasn’t going to be a fireman or any of these other things, and that was pretty much my goal was making art work.”

But if you would've told him one of those projects would be a traffic light box, he wouldn't have believed it.

“Bob Rose happened to be sitting at a table when I walk by, and he goes 'Would you be interested in drawing on one of the traffic boxes?' And I go 'What’s that?'" Preston said. “I go, 'Yeah, I think I’d like to do that.'”

The project is by Downtown Lansing Inc. and Director of Community Development Julie Reinhardt.

“Downtown Lansing Inc. is in the throws of recovery for what we’ve all been through the last couple years," Reinhardt said. "So as we rebuild and re-imagine what our downtown looks like, one of the things that we’re focused on is working with the art community.”

Marcus Cottom lightbox art
The olive burger city was created by local artist Marcus Cottom.

Preston was paired up with two other local artists, Marcus Cottom and Paul Vetne, to transform the light box from a normal, gray box to a piece of art.

“Each artist came up with his own idea what he was going to do," Preston said. "The main thing we wanted to do was wrap around the designs a little bit so they kind of look like there was a flow going on.”

Preston took a former t-shirt design and brought it to life on a bigger scale.

“The original drawing I did was for a concert t-shirt because back then there was a radio station that used to sponsor free concerts on Fridays,” he said.

Vetne highlighted the Lansing area code and Cottom built the city coming out of an olive burger with small nods to different Lansing staples.

“Dennis, Marcus and Paul are iconic artists, so we really wanted to give them the prime location in front of city hall and across the street from the Capitol, so they could kick off this program with a bang,” Reinhardt said.

Preston said the front side was a jam fest with all three artists collaborating and combining their different styles.

Paul Vetne lightbox art
Local artist Paul Vetne created the 517 area code side of the lightbox.

Preston said he ran into a few challenges while making the art.

“We would be trying to draw and this corner was picking up a lot of wind," Preston said. "It was like Van Gogh tying down his easels.”

But like any great artist, he worked with his canvas.

“There was some residue from a sticker on this other side, and I made a little robot over that,” Preston said.

Lansing robot
Preston covered up remaining sticker residue by creating a robot with the Lansing logo.

Reinhardt said she's happy they could give local artists a new way to showcase their talent.

“The art community is a big part of our community downtown," Reinhardt said. "We want to create a diverse and exciting downtown. We are Michigan’s downtown with the capitol building being right in our district.”

And Preston can't wait to see what other artists create.

“I think variety on these boxes are going to be really cool, because I think once their all done, I think people will walk from box to box just to check out to see the differences in them," Preston said.

Reinhardt said there are 12 light boxes in downtown Lansing that she hopes will be filled with unique art. If you're interested in getting involved in the new art projects downtown, you can contact her by email:

You can check out other artwork from Preston, Vetne and Cottom here:

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Tianna Jenkins

12:23 PM, Jan 12, 2021

Your Neighborhood Reporter

Tianna Jenkins

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