Michigan natives Chris Erickson and Hadley Robinson have been friends since birth.
“Before birth, actually," Erickson says. "Our dads grew up together, our grandmothers went to college together and they lived on the same street in Midland.”
The two stayed in touch through adulthood as each became artists in different ways.
Robinson is a video producer based in Brooklyn: “My background is in journalism, I used to be a newspaper writer. I’ve worked in video full time for the past five years while dabbling in audio, which has been helpful with this endeavor.”
Erickson teaches in the IB program at Huron High School where he also serves as the creative activity service coordinator, guiding students to find and pursue their creative interests.
For many Washtenaw County residents, one of the great joys of living in the area is the easy access to a plethora of hiking trails and nature preserves. Just moments from downtown Ann Arbor are areas where one can find peace and tranquility, look for birds and wildlife, and enjoy beautiful spring wildflowers and vibrant fall colors. Some of the larger and more well-known preserves are fairly popular -- you’re almost guaranteed to encounter runners, dog-walkers, and explorers in Bird Hills or at Argo Nature Area at any time of year. But, many of the smaller preserves in Washtenaw County are less trafficked and are the perfect place to find some moments of solitude and natural beauty, especially during times when gathering in crowded areas isn’t recommended. Unsure where to begin? Here are a few of the more remote preserves in the area that might be new to you.
The 12th annual SculptureWalk Chelsea launched recently, and I spent a steamy Friday afternoon strolling through the downtown in search of not just art but a sense of calm and normalcy in a year that’s been anything but.
I’ve been in Michigan for almost four years, and I’ve been to Chelsea before, but I never made it to SculptureWalk. Or more accurately, since the sculpture is on display for a year, I never noticed there was sculpture on my walks.
This is a common thing with public art installations: they blend into the areas in which they’re placed, becoming part of the background with the trees and buildings. This doesn’t devalue these creations, or the communities who put in the work, time, and money to commission and display these pieces of art; it’s just a fact and one that must be overcome with purposeful viewings.
As I walked around Chelsea, I spent several minutes with the 14 creations featured in the 2020-2021 SculptureWalk, first considering them against their backgrounds -- whether a building, telephone, or the Jiffy plant -- and then narrowed my vision to the pieces themselves, ultimately finishing by focusing on the smaller details in each work.
But my mind kept returning to considering how the sculptures related to their backdrops and their placements along the walk, which stretches from M. Saffell Gardner’s Sankofa next to the Mobile Station at the corner of Main Street and Van Buren to Jeff Bohl’s Early Bird near the parking lot at Main and Buchanan Street, with several side-road stops along the way.
I guess I was less concerned about evaluating all of the sculptures -- which, reductively speaking, range from pleasant to excellent -- but rather my reactions to purposefully looking at the works after the three previous years of not even noticing them. These are some of the sculptures and scenes that stood out to me the most.
School of Music, Theater, Dance, and Jams: U-M SMTD faculty have been compiling mixtapes during quarantine
Late winter and early spring is usually a busy time for the University of Michigan's School of Music, Theatre & Dance (SMTD). Students have started working on their final projects, music performances fill the auditoriums of the Earl V. Moore Building, and theater and dance events abound.
But since the coronavirus pandemic shut down all activity, the SMTD started engaging its audience by offering livestreams of discussions, archived performances, and even yoga classes.
My favorite SMTD offerings are the faculty-compiled mixtapes on Spotify.
The coronavirus has forced clubs and restaurants to figure out ways to survive under duress. Some places struggled and have gone out of business; other places have figured out how to make their businesses work in a reduced capacity.
But almost from the start of the pandemic, Ann Arbor's Blue LLama Jazz Club has navigated the situation with confidence and creativity.
Blue LLama started coping with the new normal by streaming archived concerts from the club -- all performances there are recorded -- and moved into curbside delivery, new live performances streamed from the empty club, and offering free meals to laid-off workers in the community. As Michigan entered Phase 4 in the reopening plan, Blue LLama resumed serving food and having concerts in the club, but it has continued to live stream shows and offering contactless food pickup for those who aren't yet comfortable with hanging out inside with others. (*This writer raises his hand and touches the sun to make it clear he is not ready to be anywhere in public right now.*)
The latest Blue LLama community outreach project during the pandemic is a benefit concert for the Jim Toy Community Center as part of Pride Month.
The best ideas often come with pizza.
That's the edible the Michigan Quarterly Review staff usually scarfs -- along with Hershey Kisses -- during its annual end-of-the-academic-year gathering to brainstorm plans.
But with the coronavirus raging, the MQR brain trust couldn't meet in person over a shared pie in 2020, but the staff did follow up on an idea from the previous year. The result is MQR Mixtape.
"We call it the Dream Session, and here, we throw our ambitions on the board," writes MQR Mixtape guest editor Elinam Agbo in the introduction to the first issue of the online journal. "Last year, one item on the list was a new imprint, a way to feature the experimental and the eclectic. How could we lean into the flexible and highlight new forms while furthering the journal’s mission to publish diverse emerging voices?"
The first issue of MQR Mixtape is titled Becoming and features the poetry of Nadia Alexis and Jasmine An and the fiction of Morgan Thomas, Sabrina Helen Li, M.E. Bronstein, Piper Gourley, Ama Asantewa Diaka, and Yohanca Delgado. There's also photography by Nadia Alexis, Chante Lasco, and Chelsea Welsh, and art by Sena Moon.
Ann Arbor singer-songwriter Dani Darling and her bandmates were recording a new EP in a studio when the Covid-19 stay-at-home order began. The Reverie EP is still on track for release this summer, but the first single, "S+M," features Darling solo.
"I found myself with those sessions and more to say, so I went back to doing my bedroom pop, late-night studio sessions," Darling said. "The beat is by a London producer GC Beats. Really just sounded like Dani when I heard it."
"S+M" features jazzy guitar chords over a slow-groove R&B beat with Darling's ethereal voice floating over the mix. She sings playful puns to tell her tale about what it feels like to be a musician in lockdown.
"'S+M' is a snapshot of my experience during the stay-at-home order -- my music career on hold indefinitely, feeling social media shift from a strength to something sinister," Darling said. "If felt like a scramble for the airwaves, like either you shut down and take time for yourself or you dive right in and try to make a wave, make a difference. I wanted to do that because I don't think of my music as purely entertainment -- it's a way to connect and healing is a big theme in this project. So I wanted to make an impact, but it started to feel like an unhealthy relationship. Sometimes you go online and you know you shouldn't; sometimes you go look at someone's [social] media knowing it will hurt and do it anyway. Sometimes people form an unhealthy relationship to you as fans."
Pulp received an email on May 7 from representatives of WSG Gallery, the longstanding Ann Arbor artist collective that had space at 306 S. Main St., saying, "Our landlord notified us that he has already contracted with construction people to dismantle walls and etc from the interior of the gallery on 5/27. He plans to put a 'FOR RENT' sign in the front window."
The email went on to discuss surprise and dismay on behalf of the WSG artists, and I asked some follow-up and clarifying questions in order to write a post. But after saying they would discuss my questions and get back to me, I never heard back from WSG.
But that's not because anything had changed with WSG's sudden eviction; it's because the gallery decided to press ahead with its new life online.
"At this point we are dedicated to moving forward," wrote WSG Gallery president Valerie Mann in a June 18 email. "We are out of our old space and busting our tails with our online gallery. We are having great success with sales so far and are really pleased! Our strength is really in our people. I mean, I have 83 year olds learning how to build web pages!!!"
The Ghostly record label -- founded in Ann Arbor and based in New York City -- and Cartoon Network's Adult Swim have a long history of curating compilations and releasing exclusive singles dating back to 2009, and the past seven months have brought us three new collaborations.
The Ghostly Swim 3 comp came out digitally in December 2019, but the vinyl isn't expected to ship until July 2020. It features 14 tracks, including "Ikat" by X-Altera (the drum 'n' bass handle for Ann Arbor producer Tadd Mullinex) and "onesix-four" by Superstructure (Ypsilanti's Todd Osborn).
A brand new Ghostly digital-only mix came out via Adult Swim this month as part of the Stimulus Swim project, which was created to support musicians who were supposed to be touring now but can't because of Covid-19. The comp features unreleased cuts and selections from Ghostly's catalog. The sampler points fans toward the artists' Bandcamp pages so they can buy the music, with all funds going to the musicians.
The new doc "Your Friend Andrew W.K." gives a brief but entertaining overview of the Community High grad's life
A new 48-minute documentary, Your Friend Andrew W.K., hit YouTube on June 13. It doesn't appear that Italian filmmaker Flavio De Feo interviewed W.K. for the film; instead, he uses clips from other interviews -- from MTV and Vice to Larry King and Glenn Beck -- to tell the story of the Community High grad who's known for three things: uplifting pop-metal music, motivational speaking, and partying hard (in a positive way).
The film is stylized -- with flashy edits and images overlaid as W.K. speaks -- and entertaining, but if you know a little bit about W.K.'s story, there won't be any revelations. And, yes, they do go into the whole "Steev Mike" thing that started in November 2004. It was claimed in various anonymous blogs and even in an alleged hack of W.K.'s site that he was, in fact, merely one of several actors playing the Andrew W.K. character, which was created by a group of creative individuals known as Steev Mike.