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Art & Soul: The Performance Arts - Creating relationships while creating art

Mark Tucker
University of Michigan

This week, "Art and Soul" is about the performance arts. WEMU's Lisa Barry talks with Ann Arbor artist and University of Michigan lecturer Mark Tucker and one of his students, Nia Rae' Echols.

They've been creating light-up, performance-type visual art for a "pop-up" art event Friday night, October 28th in Ann Arbor.


Lisa Barry: You're listening to 89 one WEMU, and this is Art and Soul. I'm Lisa Barry, and, this week, Art and Soul is about the performance arts, and there's a unique type of performance arts taking place Friday in Ann Arbor, and it's a pop-up event outside to coincide with Halloween. And joining us now to talk about that is local artists, University of Michigan lecturer Mark Tucker and one of his students, Nia Rae' Echols. Thanks so much to both of you for talking to us. 

Mark Tucker: Thank you so much for having us.

Nia Rae' Echols: Thank you.

Lisa Barry: Mark, it may sound familiar as the creator of the original Festifools public art event in Ann Arbor, and I've talked to him about that before and others about other similar events, and it seems like no one ever really explain what Festifools is. You want to take a shot at it?

Mark Tucker: Well, I think the beauty of it is is that it's unexplainable. Inexplicable, actually. But, yeah, we take over Main Street around April Fool's Day for one hour every year, and we invade it with giant--what people call--giant puppets. And so, that's the end result. But the part that people don't see is that behind the scenes, I always have a class at the University of Michigan of really wonderful bright students who come and make these giant puppets. And so, that whole process is actually what I think of as Festifools. 

Lisa Barry: And that's where Nia Rae comes in and the name of your class is "Creative Communities," and Nia Rae' is involved in that. What made you decide to even take that class? 

Credit Mark Tucker / University of Michigan
University of Michigan
Nia Rae' Echols with her 'peacock.'

Nia Rae' Echols: Well, I had applied to become a student assistant, and it was one of the classes that was like a necessity for me to take in order to be a student assistant. But honestly, I'm very grateful and glad that I have the class because I feel like not only, like, it's a part of the requirements, but it's something that I enjoy. Like, I have a really fun time working with the other student assistants in the LSWA program, and we get to do really cool things like Festifools. 

Lisa Barry: Friday night. What are you calling your pop-up event? 

Mark Tucker: A pop-up event. 

Lisa Barry: See, there's the creative part already. 

Mark Tucker: Lisa, that's what a pop-up is. You know... 

Lisa Barry: I seriously think pop-ups are still relatively new, and I'm not sure people know what they are. 

Mark Tucker: Right, right. And also, I should explain what LSWA is. It's actually the acronym--if you say it like a word--for the Lloyd Scholars for Writing and the Arts program, and that's the program I get to teach at. And Nia Rae is a student leader in. 

Lisa Barry: So, Friday night, a few nights before Halloween, what's going to be happening? 

Credit Mark Tucker / University of Michigan
University of Michigan
A U-M sophomore works on a luminary sculpture in Mark Tucker's Creative Communities class.


Mark Tucker: Nia Rae' and her peers--the other students in the class--have been creating these giant luminary sculptures. And for people in the area that have come to FoolMoon before and have been involved in it and made luminary sculptures of their own, we're inviting all those people to join us if they'd like to and to kick off Halloween weekend. So, Friday night, seven o'clock, we'll be meeting in front of the Museum of Art in Ann Arbor, and we are going to frolic and revel and have a processional through downtown Ann Arbor. So, if people want to bring their costumes and kids and grandmothers and anybody they'd like to bring and any kind of things that light up along the way, we'd love to have them. 

Lisa Barry: And, Nia Rae', in this class at the University of Michigan, you've been working on something that will be included as part of this? 

Nia Rae' Echols: Yes, me and my partner that actually we were randomly paired up and I had never known her before, which we became very close throughout the process. We made a really, really cool peacock.

Lisa Barry: A peacock? 

Nia Rae' Echols: Yes. 

Lisa Barry: Is there a light element to it? 

Nia Rae' Echols: Yes. There's going to be colorful lights, all within regular lights on the inside. It's going to be really something to see. 

Mark Tucker: And it's pretty huge. 

Nia Rae' Echols: Yes, it is. It's like when I hold it, like it's covering my face, like it's beautful.

Lisa Barry: And there will be other students with other projects included? 

Credit Mark Tucker / University of Michigan
University of Michigan
A U-M sophomore student works on a luminary sculpture in Mark Tucker's Creative Communities class.


Nia Rae' Echols: Yes, there's so many different varieties. Like, that was my favorite thing about it is because since we were put with, you know, randomized other student assistants, we got to make a new bond, a new friend. And then, everyone's outcome was completely different. 

Lisa Barry: So, there's more to it than just creating a thing or some art or a performance art or visual arts. But you got an experience out of this. 

Nia Rae' Echols: Absolutely. 

Mark Tucker: And the course is called "Creative Communities." And so, we are creating these relationships while we're also creating art together. And I don't think there's any art majors in the class. So, basically, it's all new to all the students, like how to make these things, how to think three dimensionally, but also how to collaborate effectively with each other, how to communicate, and then obviously culminating in this really cool pop-up event--nameless pop-up event--that we're going to be doing this Friday night in downtown Ann Arbor. 

Lisa Barry: How do you think in 3-D? You've talked about that before about how you teach art to non-art majors, and I always say I can barely draw a stick figure, and now you're talking about thinking in 3-D. How does one do that?

Credit Mark Tucker / University of Michigan
University of Michigan
A U-M sophomore student works on a luminary sculpture in Mark Tucker's Creative Communities class.


Mark Tucker: I think it's all wrapped up in visual literacy, and we think about verbal literacy. Like, when you said, "Oh, I, you know, I can't draw a stick figure," but we are very conscious of being able to speak and to write clearly. And I think we need to also learn to see clearly, whether it's two dimensional or three-dimensional. It's a skill that can be acquired and, you know, it takes some practice, but these students are doing a great job at it.

Lisa Barry: Since this is coming out of one of your classes at the University of Michigan, and we're, I think, just sort of talking about it now. I don't know if the whole public or community has known about it until this point, and it's sort of last minute. Are you expecting a lot of participation? 

Mark Tucker: It depends on the weather. What's the weather going to be? 

Lisa Barry: Oh, we're not going to worry about that. You're having it rain or shine, right?

Mark Tucker: Right. We're having it rain or shine. And I actually think some of the best stories come out of the worst weather situations. So, yes, we're going to be out there now. Now, how long will it last? It will depend on how cold it is. No wet and rainy, but we're just going to go out with big smiles and have fun, and, oh, if people have musical instruments they'd like to bring, drums and things, that always helps especially when you're out in inclement weather, which it looks like we're going to have. 

Lisa Barry: Nia Rae', are you inviting your friends? Are you looking forward to having a University of Michigan student outside gathering and with public art as part of it? 

Nia Rae' Echols: Of course. Like, I know, all the student assistants are going to be there showing off their things. But people who are not in the Lloyd Scholarship for Writing and the Arts. I have friends in other dorms and other parts of the campus. I'm inviting everyone because it's going to be something to see. Like, I think is going to be very enjoyable for all. Everyone of all ages. 

Lisa Barry: And this is your first time. You've never experienced this before. 

Nia Rae' Echols: Yeah, it is my first time, and it's so fun.

Lisa Barry: And once again, where should people go? 

Mark Tucker: Right to the front lawn of the Museum of Art. 

Lisa Barry: Is that the UMMA Museum? 

Mark Tucker: It is. 

Lisa Barry: Hmm. Mark Tucker and the UMMA Museum. Might we be seeing more of you in that situation sometime in the hopefully near future?

Mark Tucker: Well, now that you ask. 

Lisa Barry: Oh. 

Mark Tucker: Yeah, no. So this is a kind of unveiling something that we haven't talked about yet. No one knows about it, but the museum has very generously asked me to come and do an exhibition there next summer, and it will go from May until early September. And it will be the inverse of what a museum show usually is in that everything is going to start from zero. We're not going to have anything in the space, and we're going to invite the community to come in and build it. And by the end of the four months, we're going to have this an enormous installation and huge celebration following it. 

Lisa Barry: Is there a theme? 

Mark Tucker: Fun. F-U-N. 

Lisa Barry: All about fun and can't wait to see that and can't wait for Friday night. That's Mark Tucker and University of Michigan student Nia Rae' Echols. Thanks to both of you for talking to us here in 89-1 WEMU. 

Mark Tucker: Thank you. 

Nia Rae' Echols: Thank you.


**Special thanks to Paul Keller for providing the Art & Soul theme music.**

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu

Lisa Barry was a reporter, and host of All Things Considered on 89.1 WEMU.
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