This is my third year at the University. Â It is also my third year working for an incredible organization called FestiFools. Â FestiFools is, put most simply, a giant puppet parade that takes place in downtown Ann Arbor each year on or near April 1st. Â It is a celebration of April Fool’s Day and all of the foolishness that comes along with it.
Since I have been with FestiFools it has expanded into an entire foolish weekend. Â We are entering our second year of the Friday night event called FoolMoon, which is a beautiful brilliant procession of illuminated lantern sculptures that culminates in a raucous street party in downtown Ann Arbor.
FestiFools is stringing together the two days with a benefit concert at the Blind Pig. Â So we now have a whole weekend to ourselves to party and witness some truly beautiful and creative pieces of art. Â My favorite part about FestiFools and FoolMoon is watching the faces in the crowd. Â I spend months around these ten-foot tall puppets and luminaries, so I can sometimes forget just how awe-inspiring they are. Â But when you see a puppet give a five-year-old in the crowd a high five and see the pure joy and surprise on the kid’s face, well, it sticks with you.
When I first began working for FestiFools I was a research student with UROP. Â I worked on ways to make FestiFools more marketable and gain larger audiences for the big day. Â I was pretty successful. Â Between FestiFools’ growing name (it was the 4th annual parade my first year) and my increased publicity, we reached about 5,000 Ann Arborites and friends that year. Â When I found FestiFools in the UROP catalog it was under the name START Project or Street Theater Art Project. Â As a theatre major, I thought that sounded pretty cool. Â Little did I know that I would be suddenly thrust into the world of public art and learn just how important free and accessible art can be to a community.
I’ve always been an arts advocate, but a lot of my enthusiasm came from wanting there to be a job for me when I graduated. Â I still think that is an important thing, but my mission when promoting the arts has become much more altruistic. Â Once I saw the effects of public art firsthand it became easier to drop my own selfish motives and rely on the important purpose public art serves as my soapbox.
In an article by Jack Becker entitled “Public Art: An Essential Component of Creating Communities” he identifies four main purposes for public art: 1. Â To engage civic dialogue and community. Â 2. Â Attract attention and economic benefit. Â 3. Â Connect artists with communities. Â 4. Â Enhance public appreciation of art.
Standing on the street at FestiFools or FoolMoon, I can see all four of these in play. Â As a student, I don’t see Ann Arbor as its own town very often, or at least I didn’t before FestiFools. Â I sort of thought of it as the land that holds U of M and not much else. Â Seeing the community interact and attend these events with neighbors and friends is really inspiring. Â It gets them talking about something other than Michigan football. Â Sometimes the puppets are political or controversial and a dialogue starts about why someone may have made that and what they are trying to say.
Especially after FoolMoon, it is impossible to ignore the economic benefit to the community. Â Everyone is downtown at nighttime and they will probably get hungry or wander into shops they may not otherwise be inclined to stop by. Â The same can be said of a sculpture or mural. Â The public is attracted to aesthetic beauty and that will make them more likely to stop and observe what else is nearby.
My first year with FestiFools part of my UROP assignment was to create a puppet. Â I did this willingly, although not with the splendor I may have hoped. Â I’m just not super talented in that type of art. Â It was still a blast to make and I really did become more connected with both the University students who were also creating their own puppets and the community supporters at the event who wanted to know more about what we had created. Â There is a bond in public art that is wholly unique: the viewer appreciates what you have done for them and thus wants to talk to you and hear more about it, and the artist gains appreciation for the community for whom she is creating because she sees that enthusiasm and often has sought the beauty in the community as inspiration.
Number four is pretty self-explanatory. Â The more one is exposed to art, the more likely they are to appreciate it. Â And maybe I have just been reading too many dystopian novels recently, but try to imagine life without art. Â It is bleak. Â Imagine life without beauty. Â It is depressing. Â Art in everyday life enhances that everyday life.
FestiFools has another mission of arts education. Â Detroit has cut arts funding in its public schools. Â FestiFools goes in and teaches these kids about art and tries to foster that appreciation that is gained from exposure to art. Â I know that it will always be an uphill battle to get funding for the arts, but the arts are so necessary. Â They have been proven time and again to improve students’ overall experiences at school along with intelligence and test scores.
And I cannot stress enough, it has to be worth it just for the look on those kids’ faces. Â If you have time this weekend, stop by FoolMoon or FestiFools. Â Look at a sculpture. Â Take a long look at the mural on the side of Potbelly’s. Â Stop for a second and listen to the guy playing the washboard and harmonica on the Diag. Â Appreciate accessible art in everyday life.