It’s a crisp afternoon in October, and I am sitting on a bench near the center of campus. I watch a small group of students huddled in the center, gesturing to different areas on the ground below them. Every few feet across the Diag, there are long, wide strips of plastic bubble wrap.
Groups of students slow down and step deliberately on the bubbles, laughing ecstatically with every loud pop. When somebody shoots by on a longboard or a bike, the explosion of plastic sounds like machine gunfire. What sticks out the most to me, though, are the solitary students, the random guys stepping gingerly on the plastic and smiling a little. The simple, small reactions.
This is “Bubbled,” the first installation of Art on the Diag, or D/ART, a new club on campus. Like the Do Random Acts of Kindness club filtered through an artistic lens, the group plans elaborate pieces of art using interactive materials. So far, the group has only planned one piece each semester due to the scale and ambition of the projects.
The president of D/ART is Daniel Sharp (a junior in the Ford School of Public Policy with a minor in Art History). Sharp first conceived of the club as a sophomore, wanting an outlet to explore contemporary art in visible areas. Transferring to the School of Art & Design was one option, but most of the Stamps artwork is displayed in their own building rather than on Central Campus, where most students live and work. Working at the University of Michigan Museum of Art would enable him to facilitate or sell artwork, but not actually create any. None of the arts student groups on campus were focused on creating large-scale works in public spaces, so Sharp and a few other friends decided to make their own.
“It would hopefully create an outlet for any student, in any major, to directly practice and hone their skills in large-scale art creation and facilitation,” Sharp said.
There are between 10 and 15 dedicated members of the group, most of whom joined the group at Festifall. Several others joined after the October installation.
“Bubbled” was originally Sharp’s idea, but it was workshopped for over two months between Sharp, D/ART Vice President Sarah Rusinowski, Treasurer Holly Sterling and Central Student Government. After changing the installation’s specifications so it complied with fire codes and handicap protections, the group spent some time applying for grants. Once the materials were purchased, though, it was just a matter of waiting for 6,000 square feet of bubble wrap to arrive at the door.
“Naturally, it arrived when I was in class,” Sharp said. “My roommate was a bit surprised when a Uline bus began depositing rolls and rolls and rolls of bubble wrap on our front lawn.”
Now, D/ART ideas go through a very collaborative process before they come to life.
“Anyone in D/ART can submit an artwork idea,” Sharp said. “Then, for one entire day, we discuss the possible works for next semester, tweak or change some designs, materials and conceptual concepts, and arrive at some amazing ideas.”
Rusinowski, a LSA junior, emphasized the low stress of the club, partly due to its low time commitment.
“We meet semi-regularly to discuss upcoming projects, but involvement usually depends on the installation,” Rusinowski said. “In general, D/ART is a super low-stress organization because it’s so reliant on collaboration. We all participate because it’s fun.”
Creating large-scale public installations doesn’t come without its challenges. According to Rusinowski, D/ART has been able to count on grants from Arts at Michigan, a program within the Office of New Student Programs, and CSG. In addition to planning and holding most D/ART meetings and organizing the building and maintenance of the installations, Sharp finalizes grant applications and deals with the purchases and reimbursements of art materials.
“We actually collaborated with the Rackham Student Government to apply to the Michigan Bicentennial Student Grant Initiative for next year,” Sharp said, explaining his hopes for the future of the club. “If we win the grant, D/ART’s funding will be secured and expanded for next year. So expect quite the hubbub and excitement next year, if this comes to fruition.”
The installations themselves involve the whole team’s collaboration on the day they go up.
“We always have D/ART members present,” Rusinowski said. “We have to take care of setup and tear-down because our installations typically only stay up for one day.”
“The day of the installation went by in an instant,” Sharp said. “Everyone was absolutely excited, running on adrenaline and amazed at how many people — at least eight for me — came up and told us how much popping bubble wrap turned their day around. It was absolutely rewarding in the end to see how a specific, niche organization could still impact a wide range of people.”
D/ART has also had to deal with the absence of Sharp this semester, as he studies abroad in Berlin, meaning the group is only doing one instead of two installations this semester.
However, the “D/ARTboard” has a number of members who have stepped up to the plate in Sharp’s absence, and Rusinowski and LSA freshman Anne Tsaloff have played major roles in putting together D/ART’s second big installation, “Mirror Mimesis,” which will come to fruition on March 17. For the installation, D/ART will put 50 reflective cubes on the Diag open for anyone to tear down into different shapes and sizes. Passersby can build the cubes into structures or deconstruct them in creative ways.
“We want to start a conversation about what constitutes art,” Rusinowski said. “Just because we put bubble wrap on the ground and call it art, does that make it valid, or is it just garbage? Art is always constructed, and for so long I didn’t get that. There is no real explanation for valuing a prestigious symphony performance that costs $50 to attend over a talented street performer. I think starting that conversation has been one of my favorite things about being involved with D/ART.”
As the team started to clean up the bubble wrap at the end of the first installation, Sharp looked out at the Diag and beamed.
“I just wanna give people art,” Sharp said. “I just wanna give people weird-ass things that are super fun.”
As I sat and looked at the joyful reactions of random passersby, the wild bursts of laughter and the tentative grins, I knew that D/ART was accomplishing just that.
To get involved with D/ART, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or request membership on Maize Pages.
Additional reporting by Sam Rosenberg.