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creative:impact - Wearing foolishness famously

Mark Tucker
Mark Bialek
Mark Tucker

Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy. In the weeks and months to come, host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, explores the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.

Deb Polich, President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, at the WEMU studio.
David Fair
89.1 WEMU
Deb Polich, President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, at the WEMU studio.


Mark Tucker
University of Michigan College of Literature, Science, and the Arts
Mark Tucker

Mark Tucker began teaching at the University of Michigan in 2001 following a ten-year career as a free-lance scenic artist and theater set designer in Boston, MA. Prior to working on movies, operas, ballets, and exhibition installations, Tucker was the Art Director for the Michigan Thanksgiving Parade, designing and producing parade floats, inflatables, visuals and promotional materials for their nationally televised productions.

Tucker received his MFA in painting from U-M and received a post-graduate fellowship to study painting at the Akademie der Bildenden Kunste in Karlsruhe, Germany. Tucker has also apprenticed with pop-artist Red Grooms in NYC, and master float artist Arnoldo Galli in Viareggio, Italy.

Tucker is also the founder of FestiFools and co-founder of FoolMoon, two large-scale spectacles held annually in downtown Ann Arbor and when the spirit moves him, he also creates experimental exhibitions at YES (Ypsilanti Experimental Space) with local Filmmaker Donald Harrison.

Tucker’s current creative work–designing large-scale unique public art spectacles and exhibitions–celebrates the artmaking process by developing meaningful creative engagement opportunities between U-M students and the broader Ann Arbor community.


Mark Tucker

Lloyd Scholars for Writing and the Arts


FestiFools on Facebook

FestiFools on Twitter

FestiFools on Instagram

FUN Exhibit at University of Michigan Museum of Art


Deb Polich: Welcome to creative:impact on 89 one WEMU. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your host for creative:impact. Thanks for tuning in on Tuesdays and meeting creative guests deeply rooted in Washtenaw County and hearing about their businesses, products, programs, and services and how they impact our local quality of life, place, and economy. Mark Tucker exudes fun and foolishness. Always the most festively dressed person wherever he roams Mark makes us smile. He's best known as the founder of FestiFools and FoolMoon. We're going to find out more about him today. Mark, welcome to the show.

Mark Tucker: Thanks for having me. Must be a slow interviewee day, huh?

Deb Polich: No, in fact--

Mark Tucker: You left the door cracked open a little. i was able to get in.

Deb Polich: I'm so glad you're here. You know, what's really awesome about this community is we've done a couple hundred shows over time, and we're not even scratching the surface. I mean, we could do dozens. And so, you know, you're in the list. And the list is long, and we've got such a creative community. So, I have a question. Can a person ever have too much fun?

Mark Tucker: Hmm. Not now. Yeah, that's a good question. I mean, I think you're referring to the show that we had at the museum this past summer.

Deb Polich: I'm actually referring to you in general. You just kind of exude that. I mean, everything that you do is put in the context of really enjoying oneself. You know, it's not deep, heavy, obstreperous, you know? But you just are that guy that that makes us feel good about what you're doing.

Mark Tucker: Oh, thanks. I would like to be deep and intellectual. It's just not in my wheelhouse, you know? So, I got to go with what tools I have.

Deb Polich: So, what's happening right now is images of papier mâché, bigger than life, whimsical characters, and sculptures are popping into the minds of those WEMU listeners that know you. And for those that don't, they're going to be looking online for your work pretty soon. But how did you get to keep playing while so many of us were fooled into believing we're supposed to work 9 to 5?

Mark Tucker: Wow, that's a good question. I mean, I've just been fortunate, really. You know, I went to graduate school here at the University of Michigan, and I was going to be a, you know, a serious painter. And I started making these whimsical sculptures in grad school, and I wasn't exactly being rewarded for that work. I just couldn't quite, you know, help, but I think, as a kid, I was, you know, a clown. I rode a unicycle. I juggled.

Deb Polich: Did you really?

Mark Tucker: I had a ventriloquist puppet. You know, like, I was doing those kinds of things. So, I guess that's in my blood. And so, from there, I think I've used those tools to help lighten the entree into the arts, particularly for my students at the University of Michigan, who are primarily non-art majors. So, I don't teach at the art school. I teach for the Lloyd Scholars for Writing in the Art, a small living learning program on campus. And so, you know, I've just been trying to find ways that makes it less scary, you know, to come and try and find your creative center.

Deb Polich: You know, studying at the U is one thing, but you had, what I have to imagine, was a remarkable experience working with and studying with the infamous or famous Red Grooms.

"Chance Encounter at 3 A.M." by Red Grooms
Metropolitan Museum of Art
"Chance Encounter at 3 A.M." by Red Grooms

Mark Tucker: Oh, my gosh. You've done your homework.

Deb Polich: Well, and I actually know his work well.

Mark Tucker: Oh yeah.

Deb Polich: And so, you know, how has his work--I mean, you can see it.

Mark Tucker: Yeah.

Deb Polich: And I encourage listeners to go ahead and look at Red Grooms' work, but you can see how that's influenced your work. Do you conjure him up ever?

Mark Tucker: Oh, my God, yeah. I mean, not at the time, I don't think I understood when I was 20 years old and apprenticing for Red Grooms in New York City. I didn't understand really what he was doing, you know? It really came into focus much later and I realized, "Oh, yeah, he's got the right model here," which is get a lot of people involved, and then you can expand your vision, right? Yes, you may want to make something that's large and all encompassing, but it's very challenging to do without the help of a lot of people. And so, I learned that early on with my first intern that I hired, Shoshanna Hurand, who works for the library now.

Deb Polich: And used to work for us at Creative Washtenaw.

Mark Tucker: Oh right. Yeah.

Deb Polich: Yeah.

Mark Tucker: And, you know, she was the one who really said, "Look, Mark, you know, you've got to put your ego aside, and you got to, you know, invite the community." And she helped me do that. And hats off. I owe her a lot for that. And I'm always learning from my students, right? And this is a beautiful thing about teaching. I've been teaching now for 20 years. And I think the only reason I you know, I'm like a fossil, right? But I really am still in the game is because I'm really listening and care about what they bring.

Deb Polich: So, do you see your influence in their work, not when they're doing something for Festifools or something that you're creating but in their own work? Do you see your influence?

Mark Tucker: Well, what's interesting is, like I said, I have non-art majors, right?

Deb Polich: Right.

Mark Tucker: They're coming from all different kinds of interests and backgrounds and going to go out into the world primarily not being an artist, right? I see the influence, like, this last year--the last time I did Festifools--I had three students in my class who had been to Festifools when they were four years old and seven years old.

Deb Polich: Oh, how funny.

Mark Tucker: Right? And so now, they wanted to come, and they were making the puppets, so that they were turning around, and they were, in a sense, giving back to the community. And so, I see it in that regard. I do have a couple of students who obviously have gone on to be artists, and one who's a marvelous, like, puppet creator in California. And so, I do see it, but I'm not looking for that so much.

Deb Polich: And I don't I think the best teachers don't look for that, but it happens, nonetheless.

Mark Tucker: It does.

Festifools 2019
Myra Klarman
Wonderfool Productions
Festifools 2019

Deb Polich: 89 one WEMU creative:impact continues. I'm your host, Deb Polich, and my guest is our community's creative fool, Mark Tucker, an amazing artist. So, you may not know this, but I knew your work back in the day when you were at the, what is now the American Thanksgiving parade. It might have still been.

Mark Tucker: It was called the Thanksgiving--

Deb Polich: The Detroit Thanksgiving Parade at the time. How was that where, first of all, how amazing that could have been and, but the ability to both have such a creative space to work within, but also deadlines that you absolutely had to meet. What was that like?

Mark Tucker: It was an a-ha moment. You know, I had just come back from Germany. I was doing a post-graduate year fellowship in Karlsruhe, Germany, and I was painting. I was, like, trying to be that studio artist in a white room, you know, making it. And then, when I came back, I had my first, you know, mid-life crisis at 25, right? And I answered a blind ad, and I went into Detroit, and I went into this giant warehouse at that time. It was on Fourth Street. And I had this sense that this is where I belonged. You know, I saw these giant floats in the room. And this is no exaggeration. It was like, you know, the bells and the birds and stuff.

Deb Polich: I know the feeling.

Mark Tucker: (singing) And I was, like, "Where is this place been all my life?" I didn't know this, you know, it was possible. And, you know, a quick story. So, about eight months into my quote unquote job as a float builder, which I knew nothing, zero. I mean, they sent me looking for a left-handed hammer, and it took me a half an hour before I realized one it didn't exist. But then they had all this chaos. I don't know if you know this, but nonprofits go through chaotic periods.

Deb Polich: I do. Tell me more about that on another show.

Mark Tucker: We don't have time. But what happened is, you know, six months later, I was hauled in the office. They said, "You're going to be the art director." So, I just started from scratch, hired 15 new artists. And, yeah, we had to have everything in time for television, which was, you know, something very new to me. So, you would work 364 and a half days, and it was that last hour, right? That where you're trying to get the floats time by television cameras for live TV. That was really, really harrowing, actually.

Deb Polich: I bet.

Mark Tucker: Yeah. And through all kinds of different weather and stuff. But that was, you know, we call it the School of Mount Elliott, because that's where the studios eventually moved to fondly, because I learned so much. I never worked so hard in my life and learned so much. And a lot of that DNA has come into the things I do.

Deb Polich: That absolutely influenced everything you've done, I'm sure. So, you said goodbye to Festifools last spring, I understand and then went on to do the show that we started the top of the show with: Fun, which was working with community again, bringing that to play at the University of Michigan Museum of Art and then had an exhibition. I've heard only raves about that. And, again, I encourage people to take a peek. But is that the kind of work that you see in your future?

Child at the "Fun" exhibit.
Marc-Gregor Campredon
Child at the "Fun" exhibit.

Mark Tucker: You know, that's unusual. I mean, I was invited by Grace VanderVliet, who's an incredible curator of learning and teaching at the museum, to come and see if we could bring this Festifools--I can't even say it--ethos into a museum setting, right? And the idea, I think, was like, could we bring a more diverse audience across the threshold of the museum? And that's what interested me and excited me. I don't think I'll be leaving the streets and alleys anytime soon. I think it was a really interesting experiment.

Deb Polich: I'd be curious to see if that can be worked with both museums and activating the streets at the same time. And, you know, Mark, if there's anybody who can do it, it's going to be you.

Working at the "Fun" exhibit.
Marc-Gregor Campredo
Working at the "Fun" exhibit.

Mark Tucker: Sweet of you to say. I don't know if that's true, but that's very nice of you to say. I mean, currently, what I've done is I started thinking more about like, okay, you know, I mean, I'm getting a little long in the tooth, right? It's like, what can I do? How can I start giving back more? And, recently, my friend Quinn Strassel, who does a theater program at Community invited me to come work with him where he's starting a program at Pathways.

Working at the "Fun" exhibit.
Marc-Gregor Campredon
Working at the "Fun" exhibit.

Deb Polich: Oh, great. That's going to be awesome. And you're going to really influence those young people, too. Well, I want to say thank you for being on the show. We'll look forward to what you're doing next, and maybe we'll have it back.

Mark Tucker: Thanks so much for having me, Deb.

Deb Polich: Yeah.

Mark Tucker: It's my pleasure.

Deb Polich: That's Mark Tucker, who infuses his artwork with the joy of creativity. Find out more about Mark and his work at WEMU dot org. You've been listening to creative:mpact. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your creative:impact host. Mat Hopson is our producer. You are invited to join us every Tuesday to meet our creative Washtenaw guests. Celebrating 45 years of jazz broadcasting, this is 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti. Public Radio from Eastern Michigan University.

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Polich hosts the weekly segment creative:impact, which features creative people, jobs and businesses in the greater Ann Arbor area.
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