Public Art Builds Community

"Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality" 
--Lewis Carroll. 

Public Art beautifies the landscape, but it fulfills many other goals as well. Art in public spaces can start conversations, project diverse points of view, challenge common assumptions and provide points of engagement. In this years' WonderFool Productions event, I realize public art can instigate a communal story, or a support the task of reimagining a well-known narrative. Even a fantastical one.


I’ve participated in two Wonderfool Productions events, and both experiences challenged me, stretched me, and helped me understand contemporary art and performance as dialogues.

Festifools 2021, By WonderFool Productions and associated artists.
Date: April 1, 2021. Place: Ann Arbor, MI, The TeaHaus on Fourth Ave.

With the most recent project “Painting the Roses Red” I selected a Chapter of the same title from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Caroll. Our installation theme is encapsulated by the overall festival theme “Alice in Wonderfool” that was selected by the innovative Wonderfool Productions. And there were quite a few “Alices” in the weekend-long event. Curiouser and curiouser! However a picture is worth a thousand words, so enjoy the gallery below.

Process Notes

With a preparation period of approximately 30 days, and a performance period of 4 hours, our installations and performances were fleeting, and so, ephemeral. And because I’m obsessed with research and discovery, a good portion of my practical project management time was devoted to research about Lewis Carroll, himself, and his texts.

With found and common materials, I challenged myself to create environments which would support whimsical performances. I made a series of four hand-painted fabric pieces to document the process of painting the roses red. The fibers are 100% cotton hemmed 20 inch by 20 inch squares. To literally “paint them red” to match the story excerpt I chose, “The Dancing Cards” I would need to devise a technique and strategy, and fast.

I made the first of these pieces at EMU’s Fiber studio with my artist friend Suzanne Boissy’s guidance and encouragement. The fabric has to be prepared prior to hand-painting, with dye activator and hand-application of resist applied directly onto the fabric. Then, the dye is custom mixed and painted onto the fabric. This process is somewhat similar to batik.

That forever-tardy white rabbit was popping up everywhere! I finished the remaining pieces in a race against the clock. Later I decorated the storefronts of the Ann Arbor Tea Haus with the square fiber pieces, lights, and red and white silk flowers. Now for rehearsal! Claire was finishing up a semester of ballet dance at EMU, so we could scheme about music selections before or after dance class, on campus. Claire put in a ton of thoughtful research and creative problem-solving, as a we sought to find music from Lewis Carroll’s era. Claire began rehearsing her music selections on her own, and was ready for April 1st like the professional musician that she is! One morning in late March, the performers Lisa Dietz, Claire Guilford and Ginger Ann Nelson and myself gathered at Maple Street Studios to devise our performance score, and fine-tune it. Finally, the Festival date arrived. On April 1st, we danced to a curated a multi-hour playlist, and we also were lucky to have Claire perform live on her violin. We inhabited a magical, enchanted landscape of tea, beats, and so many roses, red and pink and white.

A final word about my recent forays into large-scale, temporary public art: As the parade of several hundred people passed by the store-front, many individuals and families paused and danced with us! Many Festifools participants stayed with us, dancing with enthusiasm, for 3-5 minutes.

This was a delightful occurrence, and we didn’t anticipate the high level of engagement. What a delightful exchange! What fervor, what zeal! If this is a small proof of the leaps public art can make, sign me up for more.

https://www.wonderfoolproductions.org/artists

Kudos to BrushMonkeys for the fanciful window art. Find out more about all the artists who participated here:
https://www.wonderfoolproductions.org/artists

Performance Reflection: Ypsi Glow

2021 is heading out the door. As I pause to reflect on all that has transpired this year, I want to dedicate a few words to “Ypsi GLOW.”

We met on a rainy chilly evening and were painted by Professor Suzanne Boissy from the School of Art at EMU. My body painting took about an hour, and the other dancers’ painting required roughly half an hour each. What did we discover during this installation and performance?

Unbridled Optimism

Contrary to what you might expect, after loading in the installation, setting it up, and dancing for four hours, we felt energized. After playfully interacting with the “audience,” who passed by our windows, we felt joyful and connected. Some of the tiniest participants rolled by in strollers. Families and small groups of friends danced with us, laughed with us, and scanned our posted playlist with their phones. A whole school of piranha “swam by” in the rain. The colorful full-head masks on these GLOW-festers artfully conveyed a compelling grouping of these carnivorous –and awe-inspiring–fish. We danced backwards–quickly– trying to escape the potential threat of their teeth.

Public Art makes a sense of community possible. A sense of community makes optimism possible. As the pandemic, and its effects, drag on, this community festival is just what the doctor ordered!

Amy Hutchison, AKA “All Smiles,” Live Performance Dance Artist @ YpsiGLOW 2021

The Back-Story: How did we get here?

About a month prior to the performance, I submitted an Artist Proposal to create an installation and performance at Ypsi GLOW. Then, I crossed my fingers for luck. Once my Proposal for “Punk’d Up Dance Marathon” was accepted, we were off and away for a 6-week flurry of preparations. Deliverables included a short video piece in “Glow TV,” the installation itself, hosted by SPARK East Innovation Center, 215 West Michigan Avenue, and a suitcase full of hand-made fiber props, costumes and make up! Ooh, and a long playlight and custom performance.

By long, I mean four hours and one minute long. I developed the playlist on Spotify for easy sharing, and asked friends to submit song nominations. I asked “What songs make you want to dance?” About 12 friends responded with song title suggestions, and these all made it into the playlight. Next, we dancers donned several costumes and danced our hearts out, twirling fiber wands, dancing traditional American jazz steps, with other forms such as contemporary, modern and popular/club dance thrown in. Often, we were balancing all this while manipulating day-glo props. Did I mention this is a black-light installation? It was, and with the inclusion of approximately 20 black light instruments and special effects lights, we made SPARK East glow up!

SPARK East went from a chic, all-business shared office space, to a circus-like stage. Swirling lights, day-glo wands and go-go boots set us up for a rockin’ contemporary playlist that included artists as varied as Adele and Amber Mark, Laura Mulva and Mitski; Lizzo and Lil Nas X.

The Installation transformed SPARK East

Lisa Dietz, Left and Amy Hutchison, Right in front of the Window that formed our portal to the other participants. We loved laughing and dancing together at Ypsi GLOW.


This blog post would not be complete without a list of folx who made this Installation and Performance possible. Thank you to all our friends at Ypsi GLOW and FestiFools. Especially we thank the school of piranha who swam by several times. And everyone who danced on the sidewalk with us, outside our window.


Video Team: Troye Aho, John Verellen, Videography by Sidney Anderson, Make-up by Jess Aho. Sidney Anderson went the extra mile as Video Editor and is the Engage@EMU Graduate Student Coordinator.

Performance Team: Lisa Dietz, Amy Hutchison, Christina Sears.

Design Team: Christina Sears with make-up by Suzanne Boissy. Lisa Dietz provided hands-on assistance.

Special Thanks: Jennifer Goulet, Jeri Rosenberg, Trevor Stone and all the gang at Wonderfool Productions.


A quote from one of our incredible dancers:

I’m currently a senior at Eastern Michigan University majoring Nursing and minoring in Musical Theatre. I’ve danced my whole life and my favorite performance was when I was in Addams Family the Musical!

I’m so glad I got to be apart of Ypsi Glow!

Johnny Verellen

Performance brings people together

A brief video clip of my performance on 10.30.21