FestiFools Pours Creativity and Inclusivity Into Ann Arbor

A photo of a festival on the streets.

You’ve likely heard of Ann Arbor’s renowned FestiFools parade, an explosion of creativity and community spirit that takes over the streets each spring. But have you ever wondered about the visionary behind this unique celebration? Meet Mark Tucker, the creative genius who not only dreamt up but continues to orchestrate this annual extravaganza of whimsy and wonder.

The genesis of FestiFools

Mark Tucker’s journey to FestiFools didn’t have a singular “aha” moment. Instead, it was a “lining up of the stars,” a confluence of his rich tapestry of experiences.

Tucker’s diverse background that laid the groundwork for FestiFools includes “Art Directing for the Michigan Thanksgiving Parade, apprenticing with Red Grooms in NYC, making costumes to celebrate Fasching in Germany, [and] learning how to make giant floats out of papier-mâché in Italy.” After much planning, troubleshooting, organizing and promoting, friends, family members and neighbors came together on April 1, 2007 to enjoy the first parade.

Overcoming early challenges

In the beginning, the biggest challenge was transforming an abstract idea into a tangible event that would captivate the community’s imagination and support.

“It was challenging to take an idea that wasn’t even a drawing on a napkin and try to get people to give us money and let us close off the streets downtown,” Tucker recounts.

As FestiFools grew, the challenge shifted to maintaining the event’s original charm and creativity amidst its expanding scale. Tucker strived to fill “a whole city block full of as much creativity and Foolishness as possible,” ensuring FestiFools remained a pure expression of communal creativity and joy.

Fostering creativity and inclusivity

Tucker views FestiFools through an artist’s lens, believing the true heart of these events lies in the behind-the-scenes creative process. This inclusive approach involves everyone in the art-making process, from fundraising to cleaning up.

“Even the process of raising funds, buying bamboo and fabric, collecting newspaper and cardboard… I think of it all as an essential part of the creative process,” Tucker shares, underscoring that the parade itself is just the “tip of the iceberg.”

Workshops and volunteer weekends are open to all, inviting seasoned artists and novices alike to discover their creative potential and contribute to the communal tapestry of FestiFools.

Looking ahead: The future of FestiFools

After briefly contemplating retirement, Tucker’s passion for FestiFools was rekindled by the community’s call to keep the tradition alive. Now, his aspirations have evolved from reaching large audiences to deepening participant engagement.

“I’m not afraid of these events becoming staid, as much as I am that they will become so popular that they will attract more spectators than art makers,” Tucker reflects, signaling a shift towards more intimate, creative engagements. This approach aims to preserve Ann Arbor’s identity as a vibrant, creative hub and ensure FestiFools remains a dynamic, participatory celebration.

The reward of community connection

The most gratifying aspect of FestiFools for Tucker has been the deep connections formed through the creative process.

“The most rewarding aspect… has been the opportunity these events have afforded me to get to meet and know so many, many wonderful people,” Tucker expresses with heartfelt appreciation. The communal spirit of FestiFools, the shared moments of creativity and joy, and the outpouring of love and acceptance during the parades are what make FestiFools a cherished Ann Arbor tradition.

“None of the events we make would be possible without the creativity of our students and the huge support of our community volunteers,” Tucker emphasizes, highlighting the collective spirit that fuels FestiFools.

FestiFools 2024

A parade from a festifools event.

This year’s FestiFools promises once again to be an unforgettable spectacle of creativity and community spirit on Main Street, downtown Ann Arbor. Themed FestiFables, the event is set to bring the streets alive on April 7 at 4pm, showcasing the ingenious and whimsical “puppets” that have become synonymous with this unique public art tradition. This one-hour event is a testament to the collaborative creativity of U-M students and the wider community, fulfilling the creative expression requirement for LS&A students while weaving a rich tapestry of festivity and folklore into the heart of Ann Arbor.

Come celebrate with Mark Tucker. From his early fascination with ventriloquism to leading one of Ann Arbor’s most beloved events, his journey reflects a life dedicated to bringing creativity and foolishness to the streets, fostering a sense of belonging and joy among all who participate.

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