‘Spooky but playful’: Grand Raven Festival returns to downtown Farmington

In the late summer of 2020, Arthur the Raven arrived in downtown Farmington — albeit very slowly. Named for Arthur Power, the Quaker settler that first settled Farmington in 1824, Arthur is the creation of Leila Mullison, a stop-motion animation artist and Farmington native. It takes Mullison roughly 45 to 90 minutes of filming the Arthur puppet to produce just 30 seconds of stop-motion animation.

Fashioned from armature wire, epoxy putty, and the cardboard from a box of Two Hearted Ale, Arthur has returned to downtown Farmington for another year of the Grand Raven Festival. The month-long festival, a spooky but family-friendly affair, opens on Friday, Oct. 1, and runs through the end of the month. The Grand Raven Festival draws its inspiration from the famous Edgar Allen Poe poem, a Halloween classic.

Mullison’s Arthur videos were a big hit last year, the festival’s first. Mullison filmed Arthur at various locales throughout downtown Farmington, charming clips that were then shared by the Farmington Downtown Development Authority and their social media pages. Expect a new series of Arthur videos to debut throughout the duration of this year’s festival.

Stop-motion animation artist Leila Mullison filming in downtown Farmington.“Over the past year I’ve made a lot of animation, which means my craft has gotten better. I like to think the clips I made this year are better, too. From a personal perspective, it’s cool to be able to track my progress by comparing similar works a year apart,” Mullison writes us from the road. She’s on her way out to Portland, Oregon, where she’s accepted a job at LAIKA, a stop-motion animation studio there.

“But, I’ll be honest, it was a little nerve-wracking to come back for a second year. The Arthur puppet is not the most durable puppet in existence. There were a few times when I was nervous he would break. But, like any good actor, he pulled through!”

[Read more about how Arthur the Raven was created on Metromode.]

Arthur the Raven takes in a show at Riley Park.

The Raven returns

For last year’s festival, Mullison’s series of videos featured a number of outdoor destinations throughout downtown Farmington. It was the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on indoor gatherings were in full effect.

“Last year, between the lockdowns and a lot of the businesses being closed or at reduced capacity, I focused on showing off things people could do or visit outside,” Mullison says. “This year, businesses are reopening — or opening for the first time, as is the case with Sipp and Dearborn Music. I wanted to focus more on places that Farmington residents can support downtown.”

Arthur the Raven is named for Farmington founder Arthur Power.It’s a similar story with the Grand Raven Festival itself. With last year’s festival being the very first, activities and attractions were presented “passively,” meaning that much of the festival was accessible at a visitor’s own leisure and discretion. Decorations and community art were on display throughout the month, and festival-goers could decide when, and with whom, they would enjoy them.

This year’s festival is similar in some respects, unfolding throughout the month and accessible according to one’s own whims. Last year’s socially-distanced events are returning. And there is, of course, the return of Arthur the Raven.

But the second annual Grand Raven Festival is turning things up a bit for 2021, too.

‘Spooky but playful’

It all starts on Friday, Oct. 1, with a kick-off event in Riley Park from 5 to 8 p.m., featuring a professional pumpkin-carving demonstration from Pam Pfropper of A'peeling Fruit Sculptures. The Farmington-based firm Jeff Scott Architects has designed a hay bale fort, inspired by the works of Edgar Allen Poe, which will be on display in the park from Oct. 1 through the end of the month.

Friday, Oct. 1, also marks the return of the Grand Raven Movie Series. Inspired by last year’s Covid-era restrictions on public gatherings, the Grand Raven Movie Series is a pop-up drive-in movie theater in the parking lot near Sidecar Slider Bar. A family-friendly “spooky” movie will be shown beginning at 7:30 p.m. each Friday, starting with “A Nightmare Before Christmas” on opening day.

“With the drive-in, Sidecar is right there. So last year was nice because they were doing curbside service and they’d bring it right to your car,” says Courtney Showalter, a volunteer on the Grand Raven committee. “So we’ll be doing that again. They have a Raven-themed cocktail and you can order your sliders and cocktails and they’ll deliver it to your car, right there at the drive-in.”

Many downtown establishments will participate in the Raven-themed cocktail event throughout the month, and many of them members of The Syndicate, Farmington’s social district. Raven-themed scarecrows, designed by members of the community, will be on display on city streets in October, as well.

A pumpkin-carving contest will judge submissions at the hay bale fort on Sunday, Oct. 17. Free pumpkins are available at Riley Park on Saturday, Oct. 9, and Wednesday, Oct. 13. On Saturday, Oct. 23, the downtown trick-or-treating event for children returns to participating businesses, running from 1 to 3 p.m. And weekly readings of Edgar Allen Poe works can be viewed on the Downtown Farmington Facebook page.

More surprises, and some of them big ones, are promised to be revealed leading up to the event, organizers say.

“This is our unique way to engage the community and downtown businesses in a way that is sort of macabre but also family-friendly, a spooky but playful way to get everyone involved in the Halloween season,” says Sean Murphy, a volunteer on the Grand Raven committee.

Arthur — and perhaps Edgar Allen Poe, for that matter — would be proud.

Visit Downtown Farmington online for a complete rundown of the month’s events.

Read more articles by MJ Galbraith.

MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.