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Ypsilanti art

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In the Neighborhood: Arts & Culture in Washtenaw County

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Over the summer I was contacted by Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation and my friend Decky Alexander, Director of Engage at EMU to participate as a Navigator for In the Neighborhood, a new initiative to gather answers from residents about arts and culture in Washtenaw County. My role was to identify two artists who would facilitate an event, culling answers from ten attendees while creating art in tandem with conversation. Priority was given to getting to the root of what our neighborhoods feel like, how they do or don't function, who was making art, who was being heard and who wasn't. It was a tall order to fill. 

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A while back Nick and I had worked on this idea to bring students and professionals to prepare and share meals together. The idea was not funded but I thought this was an opportunity to build a "safe" environment while enjoying in food. It was also a chance to build an ephemeral art happening where we had no clue what the outcome would be. 

The first artist I called upon was Marisa Dluge. As a performer with a effervescent presence, I knew she would be phenomenal at harnessing the energy of a group. She came up with the brilliant idea to include Elize Jekabson, chef and sculptor. As we started brainstorming, it was evident Elize's contribution would be key to the art building process and reflection aspect of the project. One of our planning meetings took place at Hyperion Coffee. It wasn't until I counted the chairs at the beautiful wood surface that I realized there were 10 chairs.  We were sitting at the surface our evening would take place at. Eric Mullins, one of the proprietors (and dinner guests) was generous in his time and effort and quickly agreed to let us hold the dinner there. Nick documented the evening, of course. 

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We invited guests based on who we thought would have a valuable voice but may not have the platform to share these ideas regularly. The group included artists, a musician, belly dancer, event planner, and three high school students very involved in The Learning Studio

We centered our courses around key questions the AAACF was seeking responses to. We pared them down to five courses. 

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Course 1: Building | Salad: How do you define your neighborhood? 

Course 2: Drawing | Sauces: What does the arts and cultural landscape look like? Feel like in your neighborhood?

Course 3: Deconstruction | Rice Rolls: What's missing from your neighborhood?

Course 4: Dialogue | Lasagna

Course 5: Closing | Ice cream

 

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Over the course of the evening we realized our goal to serve, document, and capture five courses was a bit lofty. (In the interest of time, we skipped the Deconstruction course. By then everyone was hungry after an hour of conversation and building). The conversation between strangers was flowing and organic, unearthing more pondering. It's difficult to convey how rich the conversation was but a few key lines resonated with me. 

What builds your neighborhood isn’t just your neighbors…it could be the way the air smells. 

It has potential but it’s just not used. The people there can be something or someone but they choose to involve themselves in the streets. There’s a lot of athletes where I live but they involve themselves in the wrong crowd, messing them over. 

I’m an outcast, I’ve been in Ypsi for the last 10 years or so. Now I live in College Heights and there’s me driving down the road in a rusty ass truck. And they’re all with their kids and strollers and I’m like “never”. 

I don’t interact with my neighbors too much. We live in an apartment complex. I recognize a good chunk of you from being around Ypsi. It’s an abstract idea, but I know a group of people around Ypsi I have things in common with. 

So maybe neighborhood is more in the people you know. 

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After building the first course:

We were trying to create the Water Tower - something that everyone identifies with as a landmark. My north star. 

This is the best representation of a neighborhood because we all did our own thing. We blended. We didn’t discuss but we worked well together and that shows how a neighborhood works. 

There’s a lot of connections and overlaps in pockets of art. I think it’s organic. 

Classes around neighborhoods. Upper class is sitting on green, they have a lot of “cheese”. This is some hurdles to jump over in order to move up. We were looking at different lines of watermelon. Some are rich, clean, better off than the ones down here…the ones are chewed up, spit out. 

The streets are messed up with a lot of construction. I used balsamic to show the streets are messed up. 

There’s a real class divided in the way arts and culture lives here. 

I disagree that there are a lot of places to play music. 

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After the second drawing course:

Isolation, I drew an art community, isolated because people usually don’t see the actual value of art. People who see art can acknowledge what’s happening but others see it as another painting, it’s isolated to the world of the artists, whether it’s photography or painting. 

An Ypsi Mandala. It represents myself in the middle. This represents the growth I’ve experienced since I’ve moved here. Lines of connection, it is in who you know. 

My art world is so cool…and no one judges me for it. 

I’m a white dude, it’s easy for me to have access to all that stuff. I come from a family with means…not everybody can do that. I’m not always sure what to do about that. 

There’s still a need for spaces that are not downtown or in Depot Town. 

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As I was listening to the conversation I heard yearning for inclusion, more spaces for performative work (including spoken word, theater, music) and a general wish to have high quality programs that are affordable or free. Ypsilanti is chock full of talent and opportunity, it's a matter of converging resources and distributing information so it reaches everyone. 

Access was also a factor which could prohibit students and adults from consuming arts and culture in the county. Whether it's transportation, social familiarity or cultural access, there are barriers which keep people from enjoying an event. The students came up with especially thoughtful points on how one person's art could be mean something else altogether to someone else. We were the first of the In the Neighborhood events produced, there will one more in Ypsilanti and another in Ann Arbor soon. I'm hopeful for the outcome of these productions and what will be created as a result of these meaningful conversations. I'll end with my favorite quote of the evening. 

I feel like art can connect all of us. 

 

 

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UpsideDownTown

Last Friday was our first venture into art experiences rather than exhibits. While showing regional work for retail sale was important, it didn't feel fulfilling as a community contribution. When Nick started talking about doing a camera obscura a while back, we though it was the perfect opportunity to show our visitors that programming can be affordable, but highly enriching. 

We had two waves of people come through with free tickets, ready to experience the inside of the camera obscura, which translates to "dark room". If you make a box or in this case, a room, completely dark and only let in a pinhole of light, light fills the space with the exterior image, inverse and upside down. I still can't explain the physics of it but this is what happens inside our eyes, inside a camera, inside a pinhole camera. It's really quite extraordinary. 

The first experience yielded fairly good representation of the street and particularly the farmers' market building across the way. We learned that late morning light gave us the best image in terms of sharpness and vibrancy but people were in awe all the same. The second wave was not as strong as this time, the sun had moved lower in the sky (around 6:30 pm) and we were getting less of an image. But when people and cars went by, it was quite thrilling. And although we were the ones in the "box", it felt quite voyeuristic as people didn't know we were seeing them. Upside down. 

Here's a short visual story on the process. We want to thank everyone that took the time to come out and get locked in the studio with us. It was a wonderful learning and social experiment. Lots more to come! 

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Coming up: March 2016

The spring exhibition season is kicking off with an incredible show and I'm excited to announce it today. I met (paper) artist Laura Makar just a few months ago when she submitted her pieces for consideration. I emailed her immediately. 

Sure-Lock , 2015, 29 x 42 inches, cut paper

Sure-Lock, 2015, 29 x 42 inches, cut paper

Her work isn't just about cut paper. Laura understands the broader sense of creating a moment, a composition larger than where the edges of the paper restrain our experience. The lines undulate in magically growing ways, but if you look really closely, you can see it's human-made. Incredible. 

The opening is on Friday, March 4th and we're making it an early evening so we can hop across the street to celebrate the new season at First Fridays Ypsilanti Gala, where I'll be the keynote speaker for the evening. So mark your calendars and wish us lots of luck for a beautiful night, celebrating visual arts, culture and friends in Ypsilanti. 

 

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November 2014

In the interest of saving time and filling everyone in on the things we have coming up, I'm loading our last e-blast content here. Enjoy! 


Hello! This is the first e-mail we've sent to this lovely list of people since opening our studio. As many of you know, we had the fortune of stumbling upon a perfect little storefront in downtown Ypsilanti about seven weeks ago. Yes, just seven weeks ago! 

It has an open storefront space (for photographing), an office (for art and design consulting) and dressing room/dining nook. We snatched it up and never looked back. 

And since then, some incredible things have happened. 

  1. We attended our first First Fridays Ypsilanti just earlier this month, a circuit of venues with music, art, food, happenings on the first Friday of each tolerable un-wintery month. (There's a short break after the upcoming December 5th event). You grab a map and check out all the cool places that are hosting exhibits and offering specials. It's unique, surprising and wonderful fun for the family.
  2. Our studio opened on 11/11! Even though we're not a retail space selling wares, it was a bit of a hectic day - little sleep and lots of anxiety - about all good things! It seems the years of accumulating furniture were for this space. We just didn't know it. 9 S. Washington is a pretty sweet little spot on a corridor of downtown Ypsi that seems to literally be activating (as someone called it) day by day right before our very eyes. 
  3. On 11/20, three days after we photographed this set up, it was featured in the digital version of the New York Times. In the print version there are both styled photos we took for Skandicrush, this wonderful subscription service that sends monthly boxes filled with beautiful home wares. We're so lucky to be partnered with talented entrepreneurs with such vision. 
  4. That same night we celebrated our opening with friends and locals. It was a riot. Some of the photos can be found on our Facebook page.
  5. Nick has been really involved with Ypsilanti families and students over the last year. He worked on a photography assignment that allowed him to capture almost every family in a housing community and it moved everyone involved. That's how we came up with the idea to offer $10 Holiday Family Portraits on 11/29 Small Business Saturday. There's no reason a family shouldn't have a professional photo. We want to make these important things accessible and fun for everyone. Spread the word and the cheer! Come in with friends, family, students, colleagues...or just by yourself. All the details are here. (Pompom backdrop included)
  6. Once again, we are so excited to support Art Around Town, the business enterprise benefitting participating Ypsilanti Public School art programming. We'll be selling art through preview sales on:
  • First Fridays, Dec. 5th from 5-9 pm **We'll also be offering $20 holiday portraits that evening!**
  • Auction preview and art sale on Friday, Dec. 12th from 5-9 pm
  • Winter Auction on Saturday, Dec. 13th from 6-9 pm. Prints, paintings and sculpture will be sale and we play auctioneer! Bring the family and battle over works of art!

We didn't know what we were missing until we had the studio. Now that we do, we're thrilled to share our ideas, aesthetics and fun times with all of you. You're always welcome here. 

Be well and have a very Happy Thanksgiving! 
Best,
Yen and Nick Azzaro

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Art Around Town: A New Social Enterprise Changing the Face of Art Education in Local Schools

Nick and I have been working on something exciting with The B. Side, a program within the Office of Academic Service-Learning at Eastern Michigan University for a few months and the news was announced in local media today. Art Around Town is a new social enterprise that provides supplies for students to create art products.

We help them learn the consigning and art retail process, exhibit the work, sell it—raising funds to buy more art supplies and give them choices on how to spend the money whether it be field trips, guest speakers...anything is possible. Nick's been capturing the art pieces for their auction catalog and website and I've been consulting and working on marketing, brand and publicity.

The full article can be found here in Ypsilanti Courier and we've included a few photos of student work below. In May, a series of events will celebrate the launch of student work being sold in a retail setting at Riverside Arts Center as well as online. 

May 2nd is First Fridays in downtown Ypsilanti and an opening to the public will coincide. 

May 3rd is the Auction and some of the best pieces will be available for bidding. 

 

We already have our eyes on some incredible paintings and drawings and we urge everyone, whether you're an avid collector or have never bought a piece, to come out and support this incredible program. See you in May!

If you're an artist looking for creative publicity, we handle all aspects of art marketing, branding and press releases. Email Yen here

Press + media: There is a private event on Thursday, May 1st with photo opportunities where we will highlight student artists. For more information or images, please contact us

 

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