Culture in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Culture in Ann Arbor, Michigan

The culture of Ann Arbor, Michigan includes various attractions and events, many of which are connected with the University of Michigan.


Cultural history

Ann Arbor's best-known cultural contributions have been musical.

Throughout the 1960s,1970s,1980s,1990s and today Ann Arbor was home to many influential rock bands, such as the MC5, Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop, Brownsville Station, George Clinton, Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, Mitch Ryder, and The Rationals. In 1969, avant-garde jazz bandleader Sun Ra and his Arkestra spent about a month living in an Ann Arbor frat house, with poet-impressario John Sinclair and his radical White Panther Party for next-door neighbors. Madonna was a dance major at the University of Michigan in the late 1970s. In 1982 and then again in 1984, the Ann Arbor Music Project (AAMP) released live albums of local music: Cruisin' Ann Arbor, Vol. I: Live at Joe's and Cruisin' Ann Arbor, Vol II: Live at the U Club. At the turn of the 21st century, Ann Arbor has been home to Ghostly International, a globally known record label specializing in electronic music and hosting acts like Matthew Dear and Dabrye.

University of Michigan attractions

Many performing arts groups and facilities are located on the University of Michigan campus, including Hill Auditorium, the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater, and the Power Center for the Performing Arts.

The University Musical Society (UMS) presents approximately 60 to 75 performances and over 100 free educational activities each season. One of the oldest performing arts presenters in the country, UMS is affiliated with the University of Michigan and housed on the UM campus. However, UMS is a separate not-for-profit organization that supports itself from ticket sales, grants, contributions, and endowment income.

Institutions and venues

Ann Arbor has a number of performing-arts institutions that are not affiliated with the University of Michigan. They include the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre (a nonprofit community theater group), Ann Arbor Ballet Theater, Ann Arbor Civic Ballet (the first chartered ballet company in Michigan when it was founded in 1954.[1]), Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra, and Arbor Opera Theater.

Theaters in the city include:

  • Michigan Theater - A live-performance venue and movie house. It hosts live performances, independent films, and classic movies while also serving as home to the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra
  • State Theatre - Independent movie theater located on State Street.
  • Performance Network Theatre - Downtown theater offering new or nontraditional drama.

Ann Arbor also has a number of concert halls and nightclubs serving up jazz and other live music:

  • Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase
  • The Ark - Ann Arbor's folk and acoustic music venue.
  • The Blind Pig - A small venue for rock, hip hop, and electronic music, it's known for early performances by Dave Matthews Band, Verve Pipe, and Nirvana, among others.
  • The Firefly Club - Jazz club.
  • Kerrytown Concert House

Sites of interest

The Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, located in a renovated and expanded historic downtown fire station, contains more than 250 interactive exhibits featuring science and technology. Artrain, located on North Main Street, is a traveling art museum located on a train.[2] A number of other art galleries exist in the city, notably in the downtown area and around the University of Michigan campus. Several buildings throughout the downtown area, like Sweetwaters Coffee and Tea and The Ark, showcase pieces of independent installation art in the form of small " fairy doors". Maps of their locations can be found at Sweetwaters, Peaceable Kingdom, or the Chamber of Commerce.

Beer and Brewing

Aside from a large restaurant scene in the Main Street, State Street, and South University Avenue areas, Ann Arbor has a significant beer-brewing culture. The city is home to four brewpubs located in the downtown area: Arbor Brewing Company, Grizzly Peak Brewing Company, Blue Tractor, and the nationally acclaimed Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales brewpub. Breweries in the nearby town of Ypsilanti (e.g. Corner Brewery) also contribute to Ann Arbor's brew scene.


Sunday Morning by Carl Milles in Ann Arbor


  • Ann Arbor Film Festival - The oldest continually operated annual experimental film festival in North America, this event attracts entries from moving image artists worldwide and screens more than 100 films before audiences at the Michigan Theater during six days in March.
  • Hash Bash - First Saturday of April. The event is a collection of speeches, live music, street vending, and the occasional civil disobedience centered on the goal of reforming federal, state, and local marijuana laws. The first Hash Bash was held in 1971 to protest the 10-year prison sentence given to cultural activist John Sinclair for possession of two marijuana joints.
  • Naked Mile - A infamous event where students would run naked through the streets once a year at the end of the University of Michigan winter semester in mid-April.[1]


  • Summer Festival - A three-and-a-half week event typically held from mid-June through early July at the Power Center and atop the adjacent parking structure (host to the free "Top of the Park" events). Each night offers internationally known entertainers inside the Power Center, Mendelssohn Theatre or Hill Auditorium, while Top of the Park showcases local, regional, and occasionally national talent starting at 7 p.m. nightly, and movies at 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. A variety of local food vendors offer limited menus while the non-profit festival organization offers soft drinks, beer and wine for sale to support the costs of offering free admission. Top Of The Park was moved to street level in 2006 due to construction on the parking structure. The move to Washington Street in front of Rackham Hall has proved to be a big success and has become a permanent place for Top Of The Park.
  • Art Fairs - Held in the third week of July from Wednesday to Saturday. There are actually five separate juried fairs, and many other artists and retail booths anywhere they can rent space. Disgruntled townies and University students and staff and anyone generally involved in town life long ago adopted the slogan "It's not art and it's not fair" to decry the fairs' inconveniences.
  • Shopping Cart Race - Held sometime late August, the race is not "official". Information is spread by word of mouth and stencil art. Participants have brought everything from decorated shopping carts to two-man bicycles that incorporate shopping cart elements into the design. The race is part of Punk Week, a series of events held annually.
  • Taste of Ann Arbor - A one day event held during the first week of June in the heart of downtown Ann Arbor. Local restaurants open concession stands to the public. Local bands, schools, and performers hold free shows and concerts. The event is sponsored by the Main Street Area Association, the Downtown Development Authority, Ann Arbor Jaycees, WEMU 89.1, and the Michigan Theater.
  • Dexter-Ann Arbor Run - A running race from Dexter to downtown Ann Arbor along the Huron River.


  • Blues and Jazz Festival - Held in mid-September at Gallup Park, the festival showcases blues and jazz musicians from around the nation. The event was first organized in 1972 by counterculture impresario John Sinclair, suspended from the mid 1970s through the 1980s, and held again in the 1990s. The 2007 Festival was canceled and the 2008 Festival is scheduled for September.[3]
  • EdgeFest - Multi-venue festival of avant-garde and progressive jazz, held each autumn since 1997.


Literary culture

Among U.S. cities, Ann Arbor ranks first in the number of booksellers and books sold per capita (although the per capita calculations may not include the large student population).[4] The Ann Arbor District Library maintains four branch outlets in addition to its main downtown building, with a fifth branch set to open in 2008. The city is also home to the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library.

Ann Arbor is also known within the performance poetry scene. The Neutral Zone, a local teen center, is home to the Volume Youth Poetry Project which holds a competition every year to send a team of six youth poets to the national youth competition Brave New Voices. The city hosted this competition in 2001 and 2002, and has sent a team each year across the U.S.

Films and fictional writing set in Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor (or its surrounding region) is also the setting (or the presumed setting) for a number of novels and short story collections, including:

  • Justin McCarthy, Dear Lady Disdain (1875)
  • Karl Edwin Harriman, Ann Arbor Tales (1902)
  • Lloyd Cassel Douglas, Magnificent Obsession (1929)
  • Allan Seager, A Frieze of Girls: Memoirs as Fiction (1964)
  • David Osborn, Open Season (1974)
  • Edward Keyes, The Michigan Murders (1976) (This is a non-fiction work)
  • Marge Piercy, Braided Lives (1982)
  • Nancy Willard, Things Invisible to See (1985)
  • Susan Holtzer, Something To Kill For (1995)
  • Susan Holtzer, Curly Smoke (1996)
  • Jerry Prescott, Deadly Sweet in Ann Arbor (1996)
  • Susan Holtzer, Bleeding Maize and Blue (1997)
  • Susan Holtzer, Black Diamond: A Mystery at the University of Michigan (1998)
  • Charles Baxter, Feast of Love (2000)
  • Susan Holtzer, The Silly Season (2000)
  • Susan Holtzer, The Wedding Game (2001)

Ann Arbor is the setting for much of the film The Four Corners of Nowhere (1995). Parts of the film Jumper (2008) are set in Ann Arbor, using both footage shot locally and footage using Peterborough, Ontario as an Ann Arbor stand-in. Ann Arbor is also frequently mentioned in the television series Lost. Because of the Michigan Film Incentive, several major films have been shooting in and around Ann Arbor in the past two years including the Tony Goldwyn-directed film Conviction starring Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell, and Minnie Driver. The film's offices and post-production were headquartered in Ann Arbor, using many area landmarks as backdrops. Shooting has been done around Ann Arbor as well as smaller towns like Pittsfield Township, Chelsea and Dexter. Several interior scenes were filmed on location in the neighboring town Ypsilanti at Sidetrack Bar & Grill in Depot Town. Several other films are being made with major stars including Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer and Samuel L. Jackson, who have been seen in and around downtown Ann Arbor.


  1. ^ City Guide - Dance. Retrieved August 18, 2005.
  2. ^ "Artrain USA: About Artrain". Archived from the original on 2006-06-15. Retrieved 2006-06-04. 
  3. ^ Lelievre, Roger (June 11, 2007). "Cash Crunch Silences Blues Festival". Ann Arbor News. 
  4. ^ "Ann Arbor Guide 2003-4". 2003-2004. Archived from the original on 2005-07-27. Retrieved 2005-08-17. 


  • Andrews, Clarence. (1992). Michigan in Literature. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.
  • Brown, Bill. (2010). You Should've Heard Just What I Seen: Collected Newspaper Articles, 1981-1984. Cincinnati: Colossal Books.

External links

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