When you first hear about the Threads All Arts Festival, happening for just the second time ever this weekend, you might have a vague notion, as I did, of a big event featuring local fiber artists.
Let me help: instead of focusing on the “Threads” part, focus instead on the “All Arts” part, and you’ll get a much more accurate sense of this ambitious festival’s vision, which involves bringing together local artists who create different kinds of music, dance, poetry, visual art, film and more.
“We spent a few months trying to name it, and came up with some silly names, like Local Grounds and Locally Bassed,” said co-founder/drummer Nicole Patrick. “At the end of a long night, someone was standing on a rug and said, ‘We should name it Threads, because … it’s about all these art forms coming together, and being woven together.’”
Patrick was a U-M music school senior when she and a friend (Samuel Schaefer) applied for and received a grant from the school’s EXCEL entrepreneurial program. The inaugural Threads All Arts Festival happened in April 2016 at Ann Arbor’s Yellow Barn.
“It was really an experiment,” said Patrick. “ … Being artists ourselves, it was a melting pot of things we wish would happen for us at a gig. We made all these plans to get people to help the artists carry their gear, help them get it hooked up on stage – at the end of the festival, that’s where we heard the most positive feedback. … One of our philosophies is that, if the artist is happy and appreciative, the audience feels that. … If an artist wants to perform and gives their all, and it matters to them, that reads in the audience.”
Indeed, the feedback Patrick got from the first fest’s attendees – a crowd heavily skewed toward U-M students, recent grads, and faculty, Patrick acknowledged – at the first Threads seemed to bear this out.
“People were really excited, and as shocked as we were, that you could go from a rock band to a single poet standing alone on a stage within five minutes, at midnight, on a Saturday night,” said Patrick. “And then at one, you could hear a chamber orchestra premiere a new work, and then watch a short film. These quick changes could have been jolty, but they weren’t. And the way people in the room reacted together – it was like a large rollercoaster we were all riding on together. That’s the effect that people walked away with.”
The second edition of Threads was originally scheduled to happen last August at the Ann Arbor Distilling Company, but when the City temporarily restricted live events at the site, Threads’ organizers canceled their plans, re-grouped, and started looking for a new home – which is easier said than done, since they need room for two stages, a good bit of lighting and sound equipment, and gallery walls.
This year, Threads will unravel at the Ypsilanti Freighthouse. “A friend recommended it to us,” said Patrick. “The three of us walked into this massive space, and it was gorgeous inside. … All the moving parts came together at the same time.”
The Threads team solicited all kinds of artists from Southeast Michigan, and about 120 of them will be involved in this weekend’s event. But what initially inspired an event that didn’t focus on one art, but all of them?
“We all have a foot in different lifestyles, or practices, and I think we’ve all had personal experiences … that have shown us how great collaboration can be,” said Patrick, who mentioned the example of musicians often working with dancers on stage. “ … We’re all exposed to those worlds, and I think we all have this desire to make something larger than what you can do on your own. This festival is a vessel to show that.”
And despite last year’s scheduling hiccup, Patrick isn’t ruling out the possibility of Threads becoming a yearly celebration of local culture.
“This year will tell us a lot,” said Patrick. “Is the work we’re doing is well-received? Do people want us in the community? Is there a positive impact from something like this? A lot of these questions are at the forefront of our minds, and we’ve already learned so much. It would be amazing if this became an annual thing.”
Photos by Theo Schear