Sunday afternoon, students and Ann Arbor residents gathered for the annual FestiFools public art parade on South Main Street in downtown Ann Arbor. Papier-maché puppets created and controlled by University of Michigan students and volunteers, along with other artists and dancers, performed under the theme “Dancin’ FOOLS.”
The parade, organized by WonderFool productions, is one in a series of public art parades the group puts on throughout the year, including FOOLmoon and ypsiGLOW. All of the events feature puppets and luminaries — puppets lit up in the dark — parading in a public area to both entertain the community and to increase appreciation for arts and arts education.
Emilia Smith, a volunteer at FestiFools who had traveled from Chicago for FOOLMoon and FestiFools, said her first experience with the puppets at FOOLMoon amazed her.
“I went to the FOOLMoon on Friday night and that was incredible,” Smith said. “I made a luminary that was a worm and that was really fun. Everyone was taking photos and dancing and enjoying it together so that was great, definitely brings people together, and brings out their creative sides.”
First-year students in the Lloyd Hall Scholars Program along with community volunteers created a vast majority of the puppets, which are human-powered and made using wires, papier-maché, fabric and any other materials students found. Puppets included a cow representing climate change, a dragon and one of Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor.
Students in the Lloyd Hall Scholars Program class Art in Public Spaces were tasked with building puppets conveying a message important to them. Engineering freshman Shivangi Sinha is enrolled in the course and built a puppet together of Queen Elizabeth II.
Sinha emphasized the work the students put into making the puppets and hoped onlookers would appreciate the messages within the art.
“I hope everyone has fun and sees students spent weeks on the puppets,” she said. “This past week we spent so many hours finishing our puppets.”
FestiFools also collaborates with Ypsilanti Community High School students to build artwork for the parade as well. Ypsilanti Community High School seniors Alexis Smith and Maximilian Harper created boxes they would wear in the parade to convey social justice issues important to them.
“We made a total of seven different boxes,” Harper said. “We wanted them all to cover different social issues, so I did gun violence, we did pride, we did women’s equality. And on the back, we all had letters, which all spell out ‘We are one.’”
Smith hoped their art would charm onlookers but also push them to think about the issues they presented on their pieces.
“I hope that they get different inspirations from the artwork that everyone designed,” Smith said. “And that they start to pay attention to all the social issues that we’ve touched on.”
Rackham student Emily Mills attended the parade partly out of curiosity, but also for an appreciation of puppets being shown.
“We were looking to hang out today and go for a run,” Mills said. “But there’s also a giant walking skeleton — I’m highly interested in giant walking skeletons. So I’m not going to not come here.”
Washtenaw Community College sophomore Emily Michel was attending FestiFools with Mills out of curiosity and said she would love to see it again next year or participate as a puppeteer.
“It’s very Ann Arbor,” Michel said. “It’s very goofy and wholesome. And I’m more curious than anything else, I don’t know what’s going on and I like it … This is my first time and I will absolutely come back.”
Mills appreciated how open and artistic the parade was, as well as how it was able to bring the Ann Arbor community together.
“I think there’s a deep public weirdness about it,” Mills said. “Which is like, it’s so good to see it in such a community-based way.”