LANSING — Brandon Navin had a way of making everyone he spoke to feel important and loved, his friends and family said.
It didn’t matter how long Navin, a fixture in the Lansing arts community and the executive director and founder of the Artist’s Umbrella — a Lansing-based art collective — had known someone. They were immediately important to him.
“He just loved really really big,” said Julie Gloden, Navin’s mother. “He was always trying to lift people and guide them. He encountered every person that came his way with an open heart and open arms.”
Navin, 50, died Friday, sparking an outpouring of grief from the Lansing community and flooding social media with memories of and messages to Navin.
Artist’s Umbrella: An inside look at the Artist’s Umbrella, a local collective uniting creatives in the city
The messages have been comforting to Gloden, who said she knew her son was beloved, but she didn’t know to what degree until she saw the flood of love and grief from his friends after his death.
a love of music
Music was always important to Navin, Gloden said. He wrote poetry and blood in several bands. Gloden and her son de ella exchanged music or motivational and inspirational quotes or memes daily.
Navin’s love of music was infectious on stage, Bryan Knickerbocker said. Knickerbocker used to manage local band Loa, in which Navin was the lead singer for several years before he left to pursue the Artist’s Umbrella arts collective.
When Knickerbocker first saw Navin perform, he said he was blown away by the singer’s charisma.
He was wild on stage and commanded it in a way all musicians should strive to, Knickerbocker said. He always wore gaudy dress socks, pulled all the way up his calves.
“He moved around constantly and he was a sweaty mess by the end of every show,” Knickerbocker said. “It didn’t matter how long he was playing,”
And his smile. Knickerbocker said he will always remember his smile.
“He has one of those smiles where you can hear it, you could hear how big the smile was.” Knickerbocker said. “He had a million dollar smile. There never was a time where he wasn’t grinning ear to ear when he saw me.”
Navin loved his wife and children and was a great dad to his teenage sons and two young daughters, Knickerbocker said.
“Everything he did, he did because of them and their support,” Knickerbocker said. “He loved unconditionally. I think that’s something everybody should learn from him.”
Creating the Artist’s Umbrella
Navin dreamed to create a platform for artists of all backgrounds and abilities, to give them a stage in whatever way they needed, Navin’s friend Kirbay Preuss said. He did that with the Artist’s Umbrella, which he formed in 2019.
Preuss said she watched Navin grow with his vision, greeting everyone with a smile and a kind heart. It will take a lot of people to fill the void Navin’s death leaves, Preuss said.
While Navin was an artist himself, his biggest accomplishment was facilitating the shows and creating a platform for artists. He made them feel welcome and accepted; the resounding message Preuss has been seen from artists after Navin’s death is thanking him for believing in them, loving them and giving them a platform.
“I almost feel like his art was the people, creating a sense of connection for these artists to feel loved,” Preuss said. “Kind of like a coach, standing behind people and believing in them.”
I have helped many young artists, like Jonathan Hibbs, reach for their dreams.
The night Hibbs met Navin, after Hibbs performed at The Loft for the first time, Navin gave him a hug and told Hibbs he was proud of him.
“He was my biggest supporter, my mentor in helping me overcome some stage fright things and some self-acceptance issues,” Hibbs said. “He was always uplifting people, trying to make everybody feel included and just give everybody a chance to show what they could do, what their talents were, what their life story was.”
Striving to help others
Rita Vogel, who also runs an art collective, said Navin had success with Artist’s Umbrella in a way no one has before in the community, Vogel said.
“The amount of energy this person had is so rare today in our world. I always think of Brandon when I think of love and the power of what it can do,” Vogel said.
She partnered with Navin on a Mason Creative Collective production, the Black Balloon Project, to honor the lives of people who died of a drug overdose. Navin, who was in recovery himself, spoke at the March event about how important it was to erase the stigma connection to addiction so people can seek help.
“There’s an incredible personal reward in being there for another human being,” Navin told the State Journal at the time. “Part of being in active recovery is we’re responsible for spreading the word and having the hand of recovery available to people when they choose to seek it. … To move forward and move away would be negligent in my opinion.”
But Navin didn’t just want to support people on their recovery journey. He wanted to help them accomplish their goals and make their dreams come true, Vogel said.
“He was just such a fire of light,” Vogel said. “He was inspiring, he was your best rally person, your best hype man. He passionately understood people’s dreams, said let’s do it, let’s facilitate it and make it happen.”
The Artist’s Umbrella is putting its shows and events on hold while organizers grieve and plan for the future, they wrote on Facebook. Organizers reassured followers on Facebook that they would be back to keep Navin’s dream alive.
“We know your hearts are heavy in this time and we want you to know you aren’t alone in your loss. There is an entire city, and many hearts beyond, sharing in the joy of memory and the pain of the void,” The Artist’s Umbrella wrote in a Facebook post. “Brandon loved Lansing and Michigan enough to start The AU and in honor of that love, we are committed to continuing the work and legacy of an incredible human. We hope that you will join us when the time is right.”
Contact reporter Kara Berg at 517-377-1113 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @karaberg95.