Ann Arbor residents on Main Street Sunday afternoon could hear FestiFools before they saw it. Loud drums and live music paraded through the city, interspersed with thousands of people who gathered to watch the event.
For the 11th year in a row, FestiFools took over the streets of downtown Ann Arbor. This year’s theme, “WishFool Thinking,” produced hundreds of giant puppet floats — from a giant bird made entirely out of balloons to President Donald Trump wearing a bib emblazoned with the Twitter logo.
Founded by Mark Tucker, arts director for the Lloyd Hall Scholars Program, and former LHSP student Shoshana Hurand, FestiFools is an annual public arts spectacle hosted by WonderFool Productions, a local nonprofit dedicated to community arts. The puppets are created by students in the Arts in Public Spaces class taught by Tucker, as well as in community art workshops.
LHSP student Anna Minnebo, an LSA sophomore, participated in FestiFools for the second time this year. She said being in the FestiFools class this year was an exciting experience.
“I volunteered at FestiFools last year, and I thought it was really awesome and was bummed I didn’t take the class, so that’s why I registered for it this year as a second-year LHSP student,” Minnebo said. “It was really cool being able to do art for art’s sake, while also being able to make a statement. A lot of the puppets this year were very political, so it was interesting to see how that came about.”
LSA freshman Alex Mullen came to the event to because he heard it was a fun occasion unique to Ann Arbor, and because he had friends participating in the festivities.
“I think it allows for really odd freedom of expression that you wouldn’t see in a lot of other places,” he said. “There’s some level of political commentary happening — there’re a lot of gaudy depictions of our current president and other political figures.”
Whether the designs were inspired by this year’s theme or by recent political occurrences, pieces such as a giant dog topped with Betsy DeVos’ head and Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor linking arms with his puppet doppelganger certainly turned heads at the event.
“Seeing the previous few years, I don’t know if it was every this overtly political,” Minnebo said. “I just wonder if it’s because of the time we’re in now or especially the town we’re in. A lot of the puppets were made that way — everybody wanted to make a Trump puppet and kind of take that on, and it was kind of encouraged, but to do it in a different and interesting way. I think it adds another layer to the parade.”
LSA sophomore Emily Miu participated in Festifools as well, and found it interesting that the public art was latent with underlying commentary.
“This is a parade, it’s FestiFools and it’s about being foolish.” Miu said. “It doesn’t have to be political, but it still ended up having those themes, and that’s got to mean something, you know? I think it’s because a lot of art is inspired by passion, and what’s been happening around us to humanity and society has inspired a lot of passion in people who want to voice this.”
Ann Arbor resident Cara Rosaen said multiple factors came together to make FestiFools the experience it is, and she found the interactive, community-building aspects particularly interesting.
“We’ve lived here almost our entire lives and we’ve never been!” Rosaen said as she lifted her son onto her shoulders. “I actually got to see the place where all these statues and paper-mache things are kept, which is so cool. We saw them there, and then actually got to see them in action today. It’s colorful, silly, make believe and imaginative. This is a ‘keep Ann Arbor weird’ moment!”