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#OTGYpsi: UMS to bring a week of interactive community arts to Ypsilanti's Freighthouse


Concentrate Ann Arbor

Rylee Barnsdale's Feature Article: Jazz, breakdancing, puppetry, and more on tap for University Musical Society's Ypsi residency

Ypsilanti Freighthouse

University Musical Society (UMS)

UMS at Ypsilanti Freighthouse


Cathy Shafran: You are listening to 89.1 WEMU. I'm Cathy Shafran, and this is On The Ground Ypsi. It's a program intended to bring you the stories of the Ypsilanti community. We bring you On the Ground Ypsi in partnership with the reporting team at Concentrate Media. And today, our focus is bringing the community together to enjoy the arts in Ypsilanti's Freighthouse. Today, I am joined by Concentrate Media reporter Rylee Barnsdale, whose online news site is reporting this week on a pilot program being launched by UMS, the University Musical Society, that, honestly, sounds like a lot of fun to me. Rylee, thanks for being here.

Rylee Barnsdale: No problem, Cathy.

Cathy Shafran: Today, you're joining us by phone. So, I thank you very much. So, your report in Concentrate Media this week sounds like a unique experience that the Ypsi community can enjoy at the Freighthouse. That's the building by the tracks in downtown Ypsi, right?

Rylee Barnsdale: That's correct. It's in the historical section of the city. It's right by Frog Island Park. It's also a bunch of restaurants and things around that area as well. I'm looking forward to seeing this residency jump off in April, because not only are we going to see a lot of really interesting and fun musical acts, there's also going to be events specifically designed for families and children, and it's going to bring a lot of folks down to that really cool area of the city.

Cathy Shafran: Much of your reporting has to do with the fact that this is an effort to reach the Ypsilanti community, reach the arts, and bring it directly into Ypsilanti. Is that much of the focus of what's going on here?

Rylee Barnsdale: Absolutely. UMS, the University Musical Society, does a lot of work in Ann Arbor. They work very closely with University of Michigan. They have done some work in Ypsilanti. But there sometimes feels like there is a sort of barrier to access to Ann Arbor, specifically, to some residents. So, this residency is going to be focused on the Ypsi community and trying to build those relationships with that community to spread a lot more art and awareness.

Cathy Shafran: Now it's called a pilot program. Why a pilot program? And what happens after the pilot program?

Rylee Barnsdale: So, this pilot program is about a week long: April 22nd to April 29th. After this program, there's going to be other residency programs within the Freighthouse, both in the spring and the fall. Those are going to be longer format programs. So, the pilot program is really so that the team at UMS can find out what folks like, what folks don't like, and how to improve the experience for everybody.

Cathy Shafran: And so, the specific outreach now is to get folks in Ypsilanti to engage in the arts. Is that what we're looking at?

Rylee Barnsdale: Yes. So, in Ypsi City, as well as Ypsi Township, there are a lot of opportunities to engage with the arts within Ypsi. You know, it's a very artsy, creative community, but not a lot of people always have access to those events, whether it's transportation or ticket prices. And that's something that UMS is really looking at with this program and this residency to make those programs more accessible.

Cathy Shafran: And these programs are free.

Rylee Barnsdale: Yes, free or pay what you can. It's a new model that UMS is actually experimenting with to see if folks are going to be able to pay what they can. It's exactly what it sounds like.

Cathy Shafran: Well, in the report in Concentrate Media this week, Rylee talked extensively with UMS Vice President of Learning and Engagement, Cayenne Harris. Cayenne is joining us now in the studio with a bit more background on the project. Thanks so much for being here.

Cayenne Harris: Oh, it's a delight to be here. Thank you, Cathy.

Cathy Shafran: So, we've heard from Rylee the framework for the pilot program. I'm interested in learning more about what actual arts will be explored and how the community actually gets engaged--I started reading up about this, and it seemed exactly what I would love to do where you actually become engaged with the performers.

Cayenne Harris: Yeah, that's right. We really tried to put together a lineup of performances, activities. Some of them are participatory, so we'll actually be looking for audience members to take part in the creativity that happens in the space. And so, for instance, we are kicking off the residency with an evening of song. It's kind of a community sing, if you will. It will be led by Dr. Brandon Waddles, who is an incredible artist based in Detroit, part of the Waddles family for those who may be familiar with that name. He will put together a group of four professional singers, a band. There'll be a song list for the evening. He will invite everyone who's there to take part in singing and sharing voices with one another. And if you're somebody who feels a little shy about singing like me, you can just listen to the great voices that he's assembled. But it's the kind of thing that's really infectious, and you end up singing along to those songs that you love.

Cathy Shafran: Our On the Ground Ypsi conversation with UMS Vice President of Learning and Engagement, Cayenne Harris, and Concentrate Media's Rylee Barnsdale continues on 89.1 WEMU. This is an activity that could be for children as well as adults.

Cayenne Harris: That's right. This particular event is all ages. We really want people of all ages to come out. It will be just a lot of joy. And we chose this in particular to start the residency because there is something really, really wonderful about being in communion with others, sharing your voice, being in a space together, and making music together.

Cathy Shafran: Then I understand another night involves breakdancing demonstration and practicing. What's that about?

Cayenne Harris: Yeah, that's actually going to be during the daytime. So, we have, for families, we are working with Mo Archer, who is from this area. He is an incredibly accomplished breaker. He will be offering demonstrations and instruction and breakdancing. And then, the second part of that workshop will be a visual art element. So, we have this program for families. It's free for families, and we'll also be offering it during the week for school groups from Ypsilanti.

Cathy Shafran: And, again, a participatory thing.

Cayenne Harris: Yes.

Cathy Shafran: Would I be able to come and learn to breakdance?

Cayenne Harris: It is absolutely participatory. Yes, you could come and learn to learn to breakdance, Cathy, and I hope you do. The visual artist we're working with is Curtis Wallace. Hopefully, that's a name that's familiar. Curtis is an Ypsilanti resident, so I think both the movement but then also having an opportunity to make something. This is really for families. We define families very broadly, so please register to join us. And that is a free event for families.

Cathy Shafran: Okay. Then there's another activity with musician Kaleigh Wilder.

Cayenne Harris: Yeah. So, Kaleigh Wilder is a really incredibly accomplished, young jazz musician. This is maybe more of what people might recognize is a traditional performance, where they'll come and be an audience for this hour-long jazz performance, Kaleigh has assembled a group of musicians. I would say it's a really multigenerational group of jazz artists. There's also a dancer who's involved in this performance. I think if you are thinking of straight-up jazz, this is probably a little bit different than that. I think it's really exploring the African diaspora. She's going to bring a lot of creativity to this particular evening. I think she is thinking specifically about the Freighthouse as a space and what she as an artist can bring to that space.

Cathy Shafran: Then the next night, an orchestra that encourages other people to come and play with them?

Cayenne Harris: That's right. So, the Regenerate Orchestra is really unlike any other orchestra that you may have heard of. The notion here is that anybody who plays an instrument, or even if you don't play an instrument and you want to come and sing or play a percussion instrument or something, you can become a part of this ensemble. For the Regenerate Orchestra, there's actually a rehearsal that will happen. That is a private event. So, those who have registered to be a part of this will come together in the space. They will work on a particular piece of music. It really can be anybody of any level. So, if you have an instrument in the closet that you haven't played in years, and you'd like to dust it off, this is a great chance to do that. Or if you're a professional musician, and you're looking to have a different kind of experience making music with others in the community, I would say both are welcome. That group will rehearse. They're going to come together briefly and then again later in the week and then do a public performance. I think it'll be really unique. I think Regenerate is a wonderful concept. I hope people come out for it.

Cathy Shafran: And lastly, I noticed there was an open mic night activity?

Cayenne Harris: Oh yeah. But we also wanted to create space for anybody who's interested in performing to come into the Freighthouse, be part of a hosted open mic night. It's going to be an equitable process. So, if you want to be a part of it, you can show up. Probably not everybody who wants to perform will be able to, but we'll have a kind of drawing from a hat, and everyone will have a chance to get up and share with the audience what it is they have to offer, whatever their creative offering is. It could be music, it could be dance, it could be stand-up comedy, whatever it is that somebody wants to offer. And that open mic night is going to lead directly into a kind of late night DJ set. So, we're hoping that some of the audience for the open mic stays and others join. And if you want to just sort of let your hair down and dance and have fun, we'll have that activity too.

Cathy Shafran: If you could put in a nutshell what you hope will happen as a result of this pilot program bringing the arts to the Freighthouse in Ypsilanti, what do you hope it does for the future of the community?

Cayenne Harris: We have been working in the Ypsilanti community for a couple of years now, offering dance workshops at Riverside Arts and outdoors at Riverside Park. We've partnered with organizations like The Corner Health, Parkridge Community Center. We've been a part of the Juneteenth celebration. We find that it's a place that we really want to be. But we haven't had a kind of consistent way for people to access UMS. So, the residency opens that up. There'll be a predictability about when we're going to be at the Freighthouse. So, it'll be in sort of September, four weeks in fall, April, four weeks in spring. So, there's a way that people can find us and access us. We want this to be a really community-informed process. We want people who live in this community to be excited about what's happening there. We want people to be able to access this space and either to perform or to be part of a creative experience or to come and see great performers.

Cathy Shafran: And that helps you plan for the future as you continue on a two-year program.

Cayenne Harris: That's exactly right.

Cathy Shafran: Thank you very much. UMS Vice President of Learning and Engagement, Cayenne Harris, and Concentrate Media reporter Rylee Barnsdale, I want to thank both of you so much for joining us today on On The Ground Ypsi.

Rylee Barnsdale: Thanks, Cathy.

Cayenne Harris: Thank you, Cathy.

Cathy Shafran: I'm Cathy Shafran, and this is 89.1 WEMU FM, Ypsilanti. Public Radio from Eastern Michigan University. And online at WEMU.org.

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Cathy Shafran was WEMU's afternoon news anchor and local host during WEMU's broadcast of NPR's All Things Considered.
Concentrate Media's Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.
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