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February 28, 2007

Obituary: Lansing arts community loses its unsung hero

Bridgette Redman

A literature teacher of mine preached that the word tragedy should be used sparingly in journalism when referring to the death of an individual. His premise was that death is natural and crime is sordid.

Yet, there are times when it is difficult to use anything but the word "tragic" to refer to a death. It has been the only word on my tongue this morning as I talk with people about the death--and apparent homicide--of Robert Busby, a man known as the honorary mayor of Lansing's Old Town.

Robert is truly one of those unsung heroes. He's someone who has done more for visual art, music, poetry, and theater in Lansing than any other single individual. Back when Old Town was "north Lansing", he had a vision for the neighborhood that looked beyond the boarded up buildings and high crime rate. Over the past 20 years, he's labored quietly and untiringly to see that vision come to life.

A successful businessman, Robert opened the Creole Gallery, a place that quickly became the center of exciting things happening in Old Town and in the arts scene in Lansing. Such artists as Wynton Marsalis and Tyree Guyton became regular performers and exhibitors there. In a city that is desperately short on performance spaces, Robert and his partner Meegan Holland opened up the stage and partnered with local theater groups. Icarus Falling has made its home there and Riverwalk Theater performs its black box productions there.

Indeed, Icarus Falling is in the middle of its world premiere run of Fatal Error, a surreal comedy written by two local playwrights. It's not known yet whether they will cancel the rest of their run or move to a different space. Robert's body was found in the basement of the Gallery and the space is still roped off as a crime scene.

Robert's support of the arts went beyond what happened between the walls of his building. He was a friend and supporter of every business that came into Old Town, encouraging them and always being present at whatever event was taking place. His support went beyond Old Town as well, stretching out to support art wherever it could be found in the community. He and Meegan brought together diverse people in the community, hosting receptions after shows and parties that fostered dialog between busy people. He was a patron of BoarsHead, a group that is already reeling from the loss of grant money and the death of another individual donor that sparked a change in schedule and the layoff of three staff members this past weekend.

Robert Busby will be greatly missed. He's left behind a gaping hole that will take many people to step forward and fill so that his dreams for a thriving, cultural community does not die with him.

Posted by Bridgette Redman at February 28, 2007 10:17 AM

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