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Week of October 1, 2012

Faculty Spotlight

Art director uses annual festival to bring art to streets

A large puppet — the skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex — hangs from the ceiling of a concrete room, accompanied by similar puppets that annually perform on the streets of Ann Arbor during the carnival-esque event called FestiFools. The puppet holds a carrot in one claw, and a chocolate bar in another, with Mark Tucker, the Lloyd Hall Scholars’ Program Art Director, standing underneath it.

Photo by Scott C. Soderberg, Michigan Photography.

“All these pieces are something that a student might want to say. This Tyrannosaurus rex was created by a psychology student who wanted to work with adolescent girls who had eating disorders; she created this and it’s holding a sign that says ‘tyranorexicsaurus,’ the late starveaceous period,” says Tucker, who started FestiFools six years ago.

Modeled after the festivals staged during Lent in Europe, Tucker, initially started FestiFools in an attempt to recreate the European festivities. “They have this aesthetic that I thought was lacking here in the United States and I was trying to figure out a way to bring it here, and see how the community would react to it, how it would change and be made into an unique experience in Ann Arbor,” he says.

To help create the large-scale festivities, Tucker enlists the help of many people within the Ann Arbor community. “Usually our students design the puppets, then the community partnerships we have throughout Ann Arbor and Detroit,” he says, adding some service fraternities, and students from the Ann Arbor YMCA, “come in on the weekends and help do some of the physical work, such as filling the plaster molds of the puppets with papier-mâché.”

Tucker, who teaches non-art majors, has another goal behind FestiFools. “Art isn’t just an object, it’s a way of life. We’re trying to teach non-art majors how to access their creativity and how to apply it to whatever they want to do in life,” he says.

In addition, FestiFools allows students to understand the impact their art can have in the city of Ann Arbor. “It’s like a nice gift university students give back to the community,” says Tucker, who also creates a few puppets for the event.

Over the years FestiFools, which is scheduled each year around April Fools Day (April 7, 2013) has evolved, adding a nighttime event known as FoolMoon as a precursor, and a fundraising mechanism to keep FestiFools alive. “We have lanterns made by the community that converge onto downtown from three different places, so we’re walking around at night with these pieces, having a giant street party,” he says.

Continuing the tradition of FestiFools is particularly important to Tucker, who sees the benefits it has among students, and just as important, for the city of Ann Arbor. “In 100 years, when I’m long dead, I want someone to carry on FestiFools, and to show just how creative a town Ann Arbor is,” Tucker says.

The weekly Spotlight features faculty and staff members at the university. To nominate a candidate, please contact the Record staff at



Mark Tucker, the Lloyd Hall Scholars’ Program art director and FestiFools founder, on a memorable classroom moment: "When a student confided he was colorblind — several weeks into a painting course."


Ann Arbor Korean Independent Film Festival presents “Poongsan,” 7 p.m. Thursday, Edward Henry Kraus Building (Natural Science) auditorium.

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