Washtenaw County provides artists and arts enthusiasts with wide-ranging settings for seeing, hearing, and sensing the world in new ways that make us move, laugh, recover, reflect, or act. The moments of creation presented in these settings are diverse experiences essential to the vibrancy of our community. In this monthly column by Ann Arbor Art Center external relations director Omari Rush, Concentrate spotlights events that are moving the county's art scene forward in innovative and exciting ways.
Making Progress: Experiential art in the distillery
Wait or create? Ann Arbor resident Peter Littlejohn asked that as he and his friends realized a need for accessible music practice and recording space (audio and visual). They ultimately won funding for a community-serving music initiative called Peter's Attic (almost exactly what it sounds like). Later, Littlejohn and his pals launched a spring 2016 multi-arts festival, Threads, that intertwined arts and ideas to promote togetherness. It was so successful that it will return to the Yellow Barn in Ann Arbor in 2017, likely in the fall.
In the meantime, on April 9 from 2:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m., Littlejohn will host Making Progress, a special interactive, experiential art exhibition at Ann Arbor Distilling Company. The distillery has lent its space to events ranging from concerts to the Moth, and Littlejohn and show partners Sam Schaefer and Becca Fisher mimic that diversity by using artwork materials ranging from wood and found objects to sound and light. These elements coalesce in installations that use dinner-table conversation to generate algorithmic music, galvanic skin responses to create sound, and lighting effects to change the meanings of words projected as shadows on a wall.
Straight Up: An art show for barflies
Alley Bar and the Ann Arbor Art Center are Liberty Street neighbors and likeminded practitioners of artfulness, though diverse in approach. But their geographies and sensibilities will merge this April via Straight Up, a new monthly one-night-only art show and sale. This exhibition's context shift away from white-walled galleries harnesses the natural, "where everybody knows your name" environment of a notable bar to create a new entry point for people to enjoy and potentially bring home local art.
Launching April 24 from 7:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m. at Alley Bar, the inaugural Straight Up show features Ann Arbor artist Niki Williams, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan Stamps School of Art and Design whose work spans performance, painting, drawing, and film. This month's Straight Up represents a unique collection of Niki's artistic flow, completely unlike his recent multi-media urban gothic project, Staying on Brand in These the Days of the West. The evening's artwork will be graphite line drawings arranged in clusters that comment on the internet vortex of truth sleuthing. Artwork is designed, both in dimensions and price points, for the average bar-goer to take home and proudly hang in an apartment. Additionally, patrons dropping into this free event will be lured to libations by $5 cocktail specials and moved to move by DJ Nicole Myint.
FoolMoon, FestiFools, and First Fridays
April 7 and April 9
A weekend of annual April alliteration kicks off in Washtenaw with the season launch of First Fridays Ypsilanti, followed by FoolMoon and FestiFools in Ann Arbor. All three events capitalize on the walkability and business diversity of our area's downtowns to stimulate commerce and creative expression in our community.
The 2017 season of First Fridays Ypsilanti begins April 7 and continues the first Friday of every month through December 1. Happenings pop up throughout downtown and Depot Town, and this year free pedicab rides by Boober Tours will facilitate navigation of those hubs. During these free "choose your own adventure" evenings (core activity begins around 5:00 p.m.), exhibitions, performances, and food and drink features dominate the urban landscape. In April in particular, five businesses will celebrate grand openings as well. The digital and social media for #FFYpsi is strong and the project website, Facebook, Instagram, and map make planning your downtown trek and meet-ups with friends easy and enjoyable.
On April 7 and April 9 community-sourced spectacles will also bring people to downtown Ann Arbor for the annual pageantry of FoolMoon and FestiFools. Revelers are encouraged to watch the processions of luminaries and giant papier-mâché creations or participate with their own homemade versions. (Instructions and guidelines are online.) The march of FoolMoon luminaries on April 7 begins at sundown from various downtown locations, then coalesces at Ashley and Washington streets, and finally disbands by midnight. FestiFools marches along Main Street on April 9 from 4:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m., and while its sights have become familiar and iconic to Ann Arbor, the creative surprises it offers are endlessly appealing.
Omari Rush is the external relations director for the Ann Arbor Art Center.