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FestiFools and folly; It's April in Ann Arbor

By Alana Valko

Festifools is an annual Ann Arbor event that takes place every year during the first weekend of April. Photo by Myra Klarman.
Celebrating its 13th year, FestiFools is back again to bring together over a thousand members from the community and its eccentric papier-mâché puppets. Established in 2007 by Mark Tucker, art director at the U-M Lloyd Hall Scholars Program (LHSP), FestiFools is an annual public art spectacle that takes over Main Street, celebrating the end of winter and the beginning of a foolish spring. The majority of the puppets that march each year in the FestiFools parade are made in the Tucker’s class, “Art in Public Spaces,” with additional help from the community. Students from all disciplines are encouraged to explore the making of large-scale theatrical scenery, as well as the creation of large-scale public spectacles.   “Students design and develop the pieces, and then think about not what works just for them, but also what works for the community,” says Tucker. Many of the students, like Caslyn Rodriguez, a freshman in Tucker’s class, create their puppets from personal inspiration, with the intent of inspiring and provoking a larger audience. “My puppet is a Nautilus, a sea creature going extinct because people use its shells to make fake pearls and earrings,” she said. “I wanted to prove a point that this animal exists and should be cared about.” Lloyd Hall Scholar Madison Copley took inspiration from her brother. “For me, I revolved my puppet around space and mental health,” says Copley. “My brother gets really bad migraines, so I created a dragon head with a brain on top of it. The head kinda represents the anger and rage that comes with that pain.”
  Festivities begin with FoolMoon, the night-time kick-off event prior to FestiFools, bringing together luminaries, interactive installations, laser shows and more to the Ann Arbor Farmers Market in Kerrytown. FoolMoon's specific role is to promote community integration and interaction, with weekly workshops leading up to the event helping those in community make their own luminaries. “FoolMoon was an easier way in which the community could make their own piece,” remarks Tucker. “They’re really making the event. They’re not coming to see it—they’re coming to be in it.” Tucker recalls that his inspiration for FestiFools actually came from Italy, where he visited to learn the fine art of cartapesta, or papier-mâché. “I had seen this in Italy a long time ago in a very tiny village," says Tucker. "The community made tiny luminaries to bring them up to a church. I thought it had a very spiritual quality. I knew this community in Ann Arbor could transform it for themselves." Not only do volunteers from the community help with FestiFools, but they also often come directly into the studio space to help students craft their puppets. “We’ve been going to the parade for about 5 or 6 years. This is the first time we were actually able to help out, but we’ve been talking about it for years,” says Christie Materni, a Toledo-native who helped students craft their final puppets. “Besides, who doesn’t want to help paint a giant puppet?” Tucker hopes to see many fools—old and new—out celebrating this weekend. “There’s still a lot of people who have yet to experience it in Ann Arbor. But for those who do, they realize what an incredibly cool community they live in,” he said. The festivities will take place this weekend, with FoolMoon kicking off on Friday, April 5, 2019 7–10 p.m. at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market in Kerrytown. FestiFools will follow this Sunday, April 7, 2019 4–5 p.m. on Main St. in Ann Arbor.

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