Welcome. Thank you for going off the beaten path to find your way here.
This is the social art movement called Y-Fi, short for Ypsi Fidelity, borne on the talents of Ypsilanti Community High School students. Y-Fi grew over a conversation that my husband Nick and I had while wandering around MOCAD one day, that our students deserve to be exposed to all the fine art, photography, video, cultural, social phenomenon in the world. That conversation bloomed into reality when we were awarded the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation’s In Our Neighborhood grant. We were elated. All the experiences that we had dreamed of for his students (Nick is a photography teacher and leads The Learning Studio, the first experimental photo studio of its kind that we know of) were about to become a reality.
WIth the partnership of Eastern Michigan University Bright Futures, the incredible after school program, we had a framework for signing our kids up, an engaging environment, and tons of support. Each week students come to Y-Fi, ready to come up with scenarios that are visually exciting and challenging. We watch videos of seemingly impossible productions and fantastic artistry in motion. Monthly, we take the kids out on a trip to a local spot where we create the spontaneous, sometimes scripted art happening, feed the students and get back in time to make sure they get home on the after-school bus. It’s a sprint and at times, a stressful one, but we see the students opening their eyes to possibilities and taking lead on photo shoots. I should mention that many of the kids have had Nick’s class in the past so they’re not totally green to photography. That said, they do know when to adjust on the fly when the lighting isn’t quite right. Sometimes it just takes longer than other times.
The In Our Neighborhood grant will (hopefully) run through 2020, which means we’ll straddle parts of two school years and cover one entire year in the middle. We’re halfway through the first semester of that first partial year and we’ve progressed immensely. The students know how to physically organize themselves when stepping off the bus, they have a Y-Fi cheer, and they’re abundantly independent and show excellent potential as they talk to more people in public. But we’re still looking to get to that polished production level that requires more time, consistency, and knowledge-staring with the students.
Our latest production at Eastern Michigan University’s Student Center was the first time the majority of our students had ever been there. Challenged with engaging the public during the busy dinner hour and getting them to take photos proved to be harder than they expected. Most students were busy (or hungry) and sprinted by. We talked about how our bodies and being dressed alike could insinuate we didn’t want to talk to the crowd, so we started organizing in smaller break out groups, talking to visitors that had come to see what we were up to.
The happening titled éclat (meaning spectacle or conspicuous success) was in reference to the kind of photo results we were aiming to get that day. In a brightly lit environment, we invited people to write things on boards that people may not expect when you first see them. Then we took the photo and challenged that idea twofold with the results of a dramatic lighting set up.
The results were really striking.
We haven’t had a chance to recap and critique with our students yet since this past week was spring break but when we view the results together, I hope they’re infinitely proud of the work they created. We have two more happenings before school lets out for summer. We’ll try to connect with students to produce events over the summer but we know that may be hard to do. Our vision is to continue educating and exciting the students about what’s possible because of the grant and celebrate their work in a book launch/art exhibit opening party next Fall.
I hope you’ll continue to follow us online and around town. If you see us, tag us #YFi and drop by for a selfie. I would love for the students to share what they’re doing with you.