Aaaaaaand we’re back, Nicole and Meri, checking in as the directors of Threads All Arts Festival, one month stronger, smarter, more excited and more terrified than ever to do this thing.
Since our last letter to update you in depth on our team’s work, we’ve solidified more local partnerships and projects, opened our call for volunteers, added more Ypsilanti-based artists to our lineup for the festival, nailed down production details from set schedules to the fabric of our main stage backdrop, and acquired more funding through our Threads 20(18) campaign to make all of this happen.
We’re excited to return to this letter idea as a space to journal, inform, reflect, and look ahead to the exciting proximity of the festival- so thank you for indulging us. We’re convinced this still works best as a conversation so please, please, please, respond if you feel called to. You can comment below on this very post. We’d love to hear from you.
Memories from the first iteration of Threads
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again - even with our team of rockstars and generous mentors and partners, we’re young and feel like we have next to NO idea how to really raise the beast that is Threads. But at least we have more resources this go around than we did back in 2016, when we somehow pulled off the first Threads Festival in FOUR MONTHS with a fraction of the resources we have now. In the most stressful planning and choice-making moments, it helps our hearts and heads to recall some specific gems of moments from Threads 2016, our baby Threads.
Like at one point of the festival, there was someone in a Batman costume roaming the crowd, rocking out to the music on stage. We provided the participating artists with a pancake breakfast, cakes made from scratch and topped delectably with blueberry and basil compote. The closing act of the festival had everyone seated, cuddling on the rugs we put out, smiling at the touching lyrics of Dreambag. The dance parties, good coffee, moments of artistic discovery and vulnerability were among the few elements of baby Threads that made us commit in our hearts to continuing this grind. It all adds up to the big things.
A conversation on funding the arts
Part of what called us to begin Threads in the first place was a lack of resources for the wonderful creativity in our area to really thrive and be shared. Many of our original team members are artists themselves, so we’ve seen a debilitating lack of space, time, and funding for the arts upfront and personal around here. We were intrigued by this challenge, and posed the question: What does it look like to throw an event that meets more of everyone's needs? One of the hardest resources for us to acquire to make Threads happen was a venue that was equipped to host artistic performances of many kinds, as well as installation art, and a standing gallery, and stages, as well as potentially hundred of artists and audience members coming and going. Another one of the hardest resources to acquire was the funding needed to throw an event of this size, and pay all of our participating artists, a goal we weren’t willing to compromise.
So what can we do with an idea that will involve high fixed costs like a venue rental, not to mention production equipment, and the expense of artist payment, and the unpredictability of how many tickets would be sold? We gamble on sources of funding, mainly grants and donations, and work as hard as we can to get as many leads as we can, to up our chances that some of these efforts would result in some funding.
We are the proud and grateful recipients of two grants from EXCEL Lab at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre, and Dance, for which we were able to apply as our team involves some current students. This is what primarily got us going. From there, we spent nearly two years cultivating relationships with other local organizations and people of all kinds - artists in the community, local friends, art enthusiasts from all over whom we thought might care to hear about this, people who work in arts development and on their own festivals, etc. Looking back, we are so grateful for the investment of time and conversation that we received from this ever-growing list of the Friends of Threads. We are filled with additional gratitude now as we close a donation campaign we recently constructed - the Threads 20(18) campaign.
We encourage conversations and calls for more and more local grants that are available to more applicants. We also encourage artists and arts organizations who are seeking funding to cultivate a circle of genuine relationships that you could turn to with specific asks when you are in need of funding. We have found that specificity and clear information about where a donor’s money would be going yields more successful results. But this is all just from our recent first experiences. Share yours below if you don’t mind. We’d love to hear what you’ve learned on this topic.
Exciting aspects of new partnerships
One way that our teams works is as follows:
(One team members walks into the room)
Team member A: I’m obsessed with buckwheat dumplings and mustard sprouts.
Team member B: I don’t know what that means. But does this mean you want something like this at Threads?
Team member A: Yes. Wouldn’t have event without it.
Team member B: Okay, let’s make it happen.
So, that may explain a little bit about why we have our toes in lots of different projects, and why Threads seems to continue wiggling around in its' amorphous shape. Last Threads, we had two food trucks at the festival that braved the April blizzard for a few hours, before realizing it just wasn’t worth it to stick around. This year, we want people to eat! Available options for eats will be: Veg-O-Rama, El Harissa, and Pilar’s Tamales. Taste the Local Difference is making us a Certified Local Food Event (guaranteed that at least 20% of food and drink vendors source their ingredients from local Michigan farmers of food producers). It excites us to introduce an awesome new restaurant in town, like Veg-O-Rama, to the great work that Taste the Local Difference does. Both TLD, Veg-O-Rama, and Team Threads hope the relationships cultivated through the Threads collaboration will lead to continued efforts to source locally.
Beyond these vendors, we are also selling a small handful of VIP food tickets. Included in this package is a vegetable-based tasting menu experience. We sometimes ask ourselves...Why and how is this a part of this festival? And the answer leads back to “because a team member cares about it.” Last year, the pancake breakfast provided for the artists came out of our Threads team member, Peter’s, obsession for making specialty pancakes every Saturday morning. It was a way for us to offer a thank you to the artists and to be in the Yellowbarn together to talk meet and talk without the festival going on.
This year, the tasting menu is a way to create a unique sit down experience during the festival at specific times. We hope to bring together new faces around a table and enjoy a wonderful meal together.
Another partnership that we’re very happy to have worked out, is with Bright Futures, a cohort of high quality after school program dedicated to improving academic achievement and developing self - efficacy. Each week, Threads artists have been going into classes and presenting their personal art form, and then working with the students together on an installation. That installation will then be a part of the festival.
Here’s a little bit about what the installation will be:
Students are led in drawing a symbolic metaphor that represents one of these topics: a time they have received/given Love, a time when they provided/felt Support, or how they hope/expect to Grow (using age-appropriate language). They will draw their responses on 4x6” card stock, stamped with a Threads “Knot” with the specific color representing one of these three concepts (Love, Support, or Growth).
The students' drawings will be showcased on a 5x7’ cork board (made of re-purposed cork from local restaurants). Festival attendees will also be invited to draw their own wish or appreciation on the stamped 3x5” cards, adding to what ultimately becomes an anonymous public message board over the two day festival. Interactors will receive a colored string to tie around their wrist, to carry with them as a reminder of their message.
AMP! Amplifying the Arts
Our newest partnership is with an amazing student organization through EMU, called AMP! This team of students is all about connecting EMU students with audiences, venues, and opportunities. They work year round on curating multiple shows, fundraisers, and an annual nonprofit leadership conference (coming up March 9th!). This gang is out of this world, and we are so lucky to have their help in spreading the word about Threads. We're excited for what this means for Threads in the future, after seeing what it has meant for us in this short amount of time. We owe a huge shout out to their program director, Susan Booth, for bringing us to such a willing, hard working and passionate group of students, for offering these courses to students, and to helping guide us and these students on projects like this.
With pre-sale tickets now live and contracts with artists signed and finalized, we continue to be inspired to add another layer to bring this happening that much further along. We’re giving it our absolute all, so that once March 12th hits, we can debrief from a place knowing that we tried the best we could.
We will continue marketing efforts at full blast until the festival. Strong believers in the power of word or mouth, we’d very much so appreciate if you’d tell your local friends and family and neighbors and folks you pull up next to at a red light about what we’re doing, and that it all peaks March 10+11 at the Ypsilanti Freighthouse. We will also continue to iron out all the details that our artists need to be comfortable and prepared, as well as our production team, while we also help coordinate volunteers and the nitty-gritty scheduling of what needs to happen when on the weekend that we’ve been counting down to for many months.
But honestly, pretty soon we hand this sucker over to our production team and our artists. If you’re one of our artists reading this -- we truly, with all of our hearts, cannot wait to see what you’ll bring to share. Thank you for your work and participation. If you’re a potential audience member reading this -- we can promise Threads will greet you with people, food, music, dance, film, poetry, and visual art that makes you laugh, talk, think, and discover. We can’t wait to talk to you while we are all under the same roof. Please come find us. Ask for Nicole and Meri. We’ll be the ones with the big smiles and cups of coffee in hand, running around whenever needed, talking to anyone and everyone willing, and dancing our faces off when the time comes.
Thanks for reading.
Love and gratitude -
Nico and Meri