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

Threads All Arts Festival

Letters from the Directors

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