In the mid-1960s, Ann Arborites were becoming increasingly concerned about the pressures put on young people in the area – especially college students. So in 1965, four area churches united to form a safe, welcoming place for students and youth to share art and unwind.
So began the folk venue that Ann Arbor now knows as The Ark.
The Ark didn’t begin as a concert house, though. At first The Ark was a forum for the discussion of political, social and occasionally theological issues known as Hill House. It was housed in a building owned by the First Presbyterian Church on Hill Street between South Forest and Washtenaw avenues.
The churches envisioned the house as a way to provide University students with an alcohol- and drug-free gathering place, according to The Ark’s website.
Although churches were The Ark’s main supporters, there was never any preaching in Hill House, which caused some discontent among the parishioners, according to long-time manager David Siglin.
As student input gradually moved The Ark’s activities away from discussion and toward folk music, the churches became increasingly less involved, said Siglin, who has managed The Ark for nearly 40 years.
“The churches found fewer and fewer people who were interested in The Ark,” he said.
The churches also began to divert their funding away from the venue.
“We just rolled with it,” Siglin said.
In 1984, according to The Ark’s website, the First Presbyterian Church reclaimed Hill House for its own use, and the folk music venue moved to Main Street. Hill House was demolished two years later.
The Ark took up its current residence 1996, and it opened with a number of well-known performers including folk singer Greg Brown.
In the more than four decades since its inception, The Ark has hosted an enormous number of artists, including Gilda Radner of Saturday Night Live, Will Gere of “The Waltons” and Iggy Pop, who all played there in their early days.
Siglin cites the Dixie Chicks, Nora Jones and Diana Krall as a few contemporary artists who have played The Ark.
Although The Ark has undergone many changes in the 42 years in Ann Arbor, its mission statement is still close to its founders’ vision.
The statement describes the concert house as “a non-profit organization dedicated to the enrichment of the human spirit” that “provides a safe and welcoming atmosphere for all people.”
– CHARLES GREGG-GEIST