I just love this city. Here’s the most recent example:
The Ann Arbor Film Festival starts today, and will celebrate its 50th anniversary this month. It’s the longest-running independent and experimental film festival in North America. Over the years the festival has showcased the early work of Lawrence Kasdan, Yoko Ono, George Lucas and Andy Warhol, to name just a few. This year the films will come from more than 20 countries and will comprise many genres, including experimental, animation, documentary, narrative, hybrid and performance-based works.
To celebrate the 50th, the festival will launch “50 Screens” in locations all over Ann Arbor. How cool is that? Don’t miss the campus location this week (March 27–April 1) when U-M’s Burton Tower will become a screen from dusk until 11pm.
There’s a trailer on the AAFF website about the festival, and Annarbor.com has a timeline of highlights from past festivals (“1972. Faced with a $2,000 deficit, the FESTIVAL has had to raise the price of admission to $1 per show.”)
The “50 Screens” project and the film festival itself got me thinking about Ann Arbor’s creative and energetic vibe. This is a place where the porous boundaries of a world-class university are interwoven with the vibrancy of the city in which it lives.
But is there a way to really describe this town? Here are a few things I tell those who are about to visit for the first time, or are considering a move to Ann Arbor:
First of all, we’re global.
I know I covered this point in my last post, but the mix of 7,000 international students, faculty and staff creates a diverse international influence that permeates our community. Last week at a lunch spot I counted four different languages being spoken!
We’re, uh, quirky.
If the film festival’s 50 screens aren’t enough evidence, how about Ann Arbor’s fairy doors? In certain downtown locations, visitors can find a dose of whimsy…but you have to be on the lookout.
Innovation and entrepreneurship are in the water around here, I’m sure of it. Sixty percent or more of all the start up companies born from U-M faculty and students stay in Ann Arbor, and you feel the energy of an entrepreneurial hub wherever you go. Google’s in town, lots of science and tech companies, and last year more than 5,000 students participated in entrepreneurship activities in and around campus.
We’re big-time foodies.
If this won’t convince folks to visit, perhaps nothing will: The food networks have been in Ann Arbor twice in the last couple of years, both to experience our famous Blimpy Burgers and to take the 5-pound Mount Nacheesmo challenge at Tio’s Mexican café.
But for those who are serious about food (and I confessed in an earlier blog post about my own obsession), there’s plenty to recommend “A-squared”: Foodies everywhere recognize Zingerman’s and now their Roadhouse restaurant too, but I also love the sidewalk café feel of downtown, the fabulous Monahan’s for fresh fish and Bob Sparrow’s classic butcher counter at Kerrytown, newcomers like Frita Batidos for Cuban-inspired sandwiches and Mani for artisanal pizza, and the major-league locavore scene with the Ann Arbor Farmers’ Market and Grange.
We adore the crazy good arts scene.
Here’s an illustrative story: A few years ago, my husband and I found ourselves with a free evening, and I remembered that Medea had just opened at the Power Center to rave reviews. I mean, classic Greek drama getting rave reviews. OK, I thought, let’s try it, and unlike my days living near NYC, I secured two reasonably priced tickets for that very evening’s performance. We watched Fiona Shaw in one of the most stunning, jaw-dropping performances ever, weeks and weeks before she went to New York with the production.
Ann Arbor loves arts and culture. Just ask our impresario Ken Fischer, executive director of the University Music Society, who brings a remarkably eclectic and energizing mix of performers to Ann Arbor annually. Or follow U-M’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance for some of the hottest performances anywhere, anytime. Or ask ticketholders at the Ark, the city’s legendary folk music venue, or residents attending any of the regional museums or performance halls, where a rich diversity of music, theater, art and dance is celebrated.
We have a lush Arboretum smack-dab in the middle of the city.
Nichols Arboretum. It’s just beautiful. And a river runs through it.
In fact, we’re really green.
Ann Arbor offers some amazing green spaces, parks and other natural gems (like the Matthaei Botanical Gardens on Dixboro Road and, of course, the Huron River).
We care a lot about sustainability of natural world—as a city and a university. U-M was one of the early leaders in university sustainability operations; and we have one of the oldest recycling programs, the largest alternative fuel fleet of all North American universities, largest football game recycling program….
And heck: We started the first Earth Day!
We’re proud of our historical legacy.
We celebrated the 50th anniversary of the birth of the Peace Corps a couple of years ago. That was the night then-candidate John F. Kennedy stopped at the Michigan Union at 2am to challenge a group of students about what they might do to do good in the world. We try to renew those vows continually as an institution, and as a community.
U-M student-athlete Gerald Ford gave us all an example of what it means to be courageous during his time in Ann Arbor. Fielding Yost, U-M’s athletic director at the time, agreed to bench Ford’s friend and teammate Willis Ward—the only African American on the Michigan football team—at Georgia Tech’s request. Ford spoke out, threatening to quit the team. President Ford reflected on this 65 years later when he wrote in the New York Times about U-M’s defense of its admissions policies before the United States Supreme Court: “I don’t want future college students,” he said, “to suffer the cultural and social impoverishment that afflicted my generation.”
In Ann Arbor we have a special pride about this city’s character and its impact in the world. Maybe William Shawn, revered editor of the New Yorker, said it best:
There are other places, surely, for other people, but for me there is one place, Ann Arbor, for there it was I discovered what life’s bright possibilities were.