Every spring, University undergraduate students enrolled in the Lloyd Hall Scholars Program build floating puppets that are paraded down Main Street in April for Festifools. The project has an obvious artistic purpose, but it has a philanthropic one as well.
Yesterday, eight visually impaired students came to Ann Arbor from the O. W. Holmes Elementary School in downtown Detroit to help build the puppets.
Ruth Marsh, a Lloyd Hall Scholars Program staff member, said the Festifools parade is part of a class called Art and Public Spaces, which aims to bring art to the public of Southeastern Michigan.
“The breadth of the course is to get the community involved, and to make the art accessible to everyone,” Marsh said in an interview yesterday. “This is one of our outreaches to the community.”
Prof. Mark Tucker, who works with the Lloyd Hall Scholars Program, said Festifools is a collaboration between the scholars program and the local community.
“Four years ago we started Festifools, and we close down Main Street for an hour (for the parade),” Tucker said. “University students design these giant puppets, and people from the community come in and help make them.”
Tucker said in an interview yesterday that helping make the Festifools puppets offered the visually impaired students an opportunity for artistic expression that they don’t have in school.
“We’ve been bringing the kids here for three years, but now we’re going to Detroit, too, because a lot of them don’t have arts programs anymore,” Tucker said.
Whitney Bryant, a 15-year-old student who participated in the event, said she enjoyed having the opportunity to try a new type of art.
“I never sculpted before. It’s fun. I could do it all day,” Bryant said. “And I’ll be here next year, too.”
Patty Smith, a teacher from O.W. Holmes Elementary, said that working with the Festifools puppets gives the visually impaired students, who are in grades five through eight, an artistic experience that’s more comprehensive than what they normally get in school.
“A lot of art classes for the visually impaired involve grabbing a crayon and scribbling, but you really need the visuals to get something out of it,” Smith said. “They love being a part of something, and getting into a different community, and doing some hands-on art.”
But despite the benefit the project offered her students, Smith said the field trip almost didn’t happen because of budget constraints within the O.W. Holmes School.
“(Mark Tucker and Ruth Marsh) ended up driving us in U of M vans, because otherwise we would have had to pay for a bus, which is $300 or $350, and that’s not in our budget,” Smith said.
Denise McCurtis, a teaching aide who traveled with the students, said that the students enjoyed participating in the public project.
“They like knowing that their creation is going to be a part of the parade,” said McCurtis. “They’ve had a lot of fun with it, making the paper maché and being together outside of school.”
McCurtis added that the students do most of their work on the puppets without help from their teachers.
“I help, but they do most of it themselves,” McCurtis said.
Delon Allen, age 13, said he also liked building the puppets.
“I like the clay,” Allen said. “We crushed it, and smoothed it out, and we had to make an arm and the fingers.”
Marsh said she wished that the Lloyd Hall Scholars students could have been there during the students’ field trip so they could work on the puppets together.
“It’s just unfortunate that we can’t get the (University) students out here, and that we can’t have it on a weekend,” Marsh said. “But given the course schedule and the (visually impaired) students’ schedule, it just didn’t work out.”
The Festifools Parade will take place on April 11 on Main Street.