Contact Us

Use the form on the right to contact us.

You can edit the text in this area, and change where the contact form on the right submits to, by entering edit mode using the modes on the bottom right. 

335 West Ann Street
Ann Arbor, MI, 48104
United States

Threads All Arts Festival

Letters from the Directors

Letter 2

Karen Toomasian

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 TamalesTaste 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.

Bright Futures:
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.

We continue
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

The First of Many: Letters from the Directors

Karen Toomasian

This is our first ever of ‘letters from the directors’ - “our” being Meri and Nicole. We have been working on Threads since the beginning (December 2015), and as of August 2017, we are the co-directors of the festival. We’ve been searching and thinking about a good way to share all the inside organs of Threads, and are going to try this out for a bit! We'll use this as a space to share what we’re doing and planning every month. This first one will include some history since that’s a fun place for us to start. We want you to know the specifics of what our work entails, and we want to have you weigh in with any feedback or ideas. We can respond to your comments, and Threads can become an ongoing conversation via this public forum. Of course, emails and calls are also welcome if that works best.

This was an idea that came out of something we’ll mention later on, and we’re sorta sillily excited to have this platform to host conversations, share ideas and keep you as much in the loop as we can.

As we wrote this letter, we found ourselves wanting to add “if you have any ideas on how we can do this better, let us know” at the end of nearly every sentence, so we’re going to save you from that and just put it out there to begin with.  

Here’s what Threads is to us:

We like to imagine Threads as a human with its own personality and journey. Over time, how can we foster it to grow and evolve into the best version of itself? What can it offer the world? How far can it reach? What is it here to do? And how much should the answers to those questions change from day to day, year to year, or now till 2050?

Threads is young and needs our daily attention and nurturing, but it doesn't feel like our child. It has too much of a mind of its own to be that controlled. It’s more like a sibling to us: the kind of siblings where you root each other on, live vicariously through one another, and remind each other to take thirty seconds in your stressed out week to blast some music and dance for yourself. We're thankful to have it around.

Our team is made up of nine folks all old enough to drink, but can’t say they were born in 80’s. Not a single one of us had festival or festival production experience when we first began inventing the festival two years ago. The team was formed after a few of us came together because we wanted to do any sort of project together. Then we decided, why not make a festival? We then thought about other people we wanted to be friends with, and knew if we had a reason to work with them, that the friendship would come.  And that’s how we got the first Threads team together. It was not until a few months after Threads 2016 that we really codified some roles and ways to divvy up the work, and yet, work together.

We imagine Threads as a meeting place for artists.  For instance, Nicole’s a drummer - and if she were a new drummer who just moved to town, and knew Threads was happening, she could show up to the fest and get a great “flight” of the arts in this area. And not only that, but she could walk up to any of the artists at any point, and say hey. And say, I love what you did, can we grab a beer? And then they’d walk twenty steps to grab a beer and they could talk and then she’d ask to make a date to play with them. That’s one part of what this is all about. Artist or supporter, new to town or old to town, here’s four walls that designate a space that’s been curated, morphed, and offered solely for exploration, discovery, inspiration, conversation, thoughts, ideas….you get the idea.

Best Case Scenario of a Threads attendee (in our minds):

You come to Threads because you want to support your friend who has a painting at the fest. The dance duet happening on stages catches your eye, and so you wander closer to the stage to watch their performance. And before you know it, an hour goes by, where you've been watching poets, musicians and films. So the next weekend, you make it a point to bring a few friends and go see them again, which is bound to happen because they live in southeast Michigan, and they make their work here, and they share their work here.

You grow. The artist grows. The scene grows.

Also Best Case Scenario of a Threads Attendee:

You come hang out for an hour in which you see four different sets. You take a walk around the block. On that walk, you tell someone outside Sidetrack that they should stop inside the Freighthouse to check out the festival. You come back in. And repeat.

There’s also lots of other best case scenario Threads attendees, but those are some examples.

One of our Favorite Aspects

Most of the art being shown at Threads are pieces adapted specifically for the festival. This extra “hand delivered with care” nature of the festival was a marvel for us to observe during the first Threads. We really, really loved the energy that this brought to the room and we’re excited to see how it manifests this second time around.


The first year, 100% of ticket sales went to paying our artists. With tickets only costing $5 a head, we paid 160 artists and knew we had to find a better way to do this the second time around. This year we got funding to cover artist payment, which means 100% of ticket sales will go towards the next year. It was super great to have been able to make that switch in our budget, which we owe completely to the support of the EXCELerator grant from UofM’s EXCEL program, as well as support from the Residential College and Center for World Performance Studies. We’re also just about to release a campaign to find 20 individual donors to sponsor specific artists.

Venue: The Mission of Finding a Flexible Space

Our initial second iteration of the festival was going to take place at the Ann Arbor Distilling Co. After that could no longer happen, for various reasons, we searched high and low for other spaces. For three months we checked out potential spots, explained what we were trying to do, and most of the time were shut down. Whether it was museums, bars, public parks, or farms, we just weren’t able to find a place that worked for us and the artists that we promised to include once we found a new place. In the middle of September, a friend recommended the Freighthouse. We set up a meeting and honestly, a few of us peed a little or cried a little when we first saw the space. It had power, it had walls, it was gigantic, it was beautiful, it was empty. It had bathrooms, there were water fountains, it was a good sounding room, there were heaters, there was parking, it could block out sunlight, it had a load in place, and they were super willing to negotiate a partnership with us. As we continued to search, we kept coming back to the Freighthouse, feeling more and more that this was the only place we felt comfortable trusting to host Threads and that would allow Threads to evolve as we designed this years’ festival.

We recently released a blog post with large updates on what had changed since last Threads that you should check out if you’re interested in those things, but we want to talk more about the existence of Threads in Ypsi. We’ve had artists raise concerns about the event taking place in Ypsi, since it does not focus on highlighting artists from Ypsi, nor are we from Ypsi.

And yes, we hear you and those are two very true facts.

The fact of the matter is: we chose to curate Threads 2018 with the same artists who were aced out of the experience when they were set for Threads 2017, only for things to ultimately fall through. These artists were selected from our free and open call for artists back in the Spring of 2017. We felt a loyalty and partnership after the time and energy invested from both the artist and our sides, and decided to give them priority in the lineup for the next version of our festival.

We had prioritized finding a space and organizing the festival, admittingly placing place-making lower on the totem pole of priorities, since our festival isn’t tied to one location more than another, and because of one of the larger problems at hand - that there is no doubt a shortage of spaces for public events, let alone small budget arts events, which caused us to move in the first place. We wanted Threads to happen, and so we moved forward in our operations with the mindset that, this is an awesome place where there is already a culture built around supporting events by attending and an openness to checking out new artists. That was until we heard quite the opposite from some members of Defend Affordable Housing in Ypsi.

After talking with folks who asked us to make room for Ypsi artists on our lineup, we looked at our jam packed minute to minute schedule, and felt that it was only respectful of us to uphold our previous agreement to our previous contracted artists, and instead of adding artists, that we would look to the arts organizations in town at the same time as to asking advice from local event organizers who have way more experience than us in community engagement.

Out of those conversations we ended up meeting with Riverside Arts Center and Arbor Ypsi Music and Arts Guild to start the conversation of possible ways to integrate and best ways to carry on.

We also had some help from a great friend, and Threads artist, Rebecca Rosen who is working to incorporate EMU’s Bright Futures after school program by developing these beginning ideas into fuller certainties: working with the kids to design an interactive installation to be shared at Threads, hosting a festival lineup poster design contest amongst middle and high school students, and making the festival accessible to Bright Future kids and families by providing each of them with 2 free tickets.

We’re also thinking about ways to have more Ypsi arts orgs get mic time, have tables set up with representatives so attendees can inquire more, and possibly bring in a panel to have a discussion on a few different topics we’re thinking about.  1. Gentrification and the Arts, 2. Social Responsibilities of Arts Organizations, 3. How to Become Better at Community Engagement, 4. Spaces, Arts, Actions. We’d really love to hear your thoughts on this! Especially what you’d like to hear discussions about and who you’d like to hear speak about them. Let’s see if we can get discussions happening on to this forum!

At this point, we’ve also made the call to reopen our submissions to Ypsi artists in hopes that we can support a few more to the best of our ability! The application can be found at and will run it as long as we possibly can, in order to still plan accordingly for our festival.

We Continue

We continue to research, ask questions, understand, develop and interact as we build this festival. We’re so grateful that this continues to be our way of learning the how’s, the why’s and building bridges between what we never knew existed, to what we’re working on understanding.

We’re working with this kickass organization called Taste the Local Difference to have Threads be a certified Local Food Event (put in your vote for food vendors now!), and meeting with Corner Brewery on Tuesday.  

Also, we were going to make tanks to sell for the August version… but those might not go over so well in March… so we’re trying to find a way to make hats instead! And working on our new t-shirt design for this year, too.

Thanks for taking the time to follow us, and we hope to meet you at Threads.

With love and gratitude,

Meri and Nicole