Looking to experience something uniquely Providence this weekend? Be sure to stroll by Empire Street downtown this Saturday, August 15th and stop by the AS220 FooFest. For a low $5 admissions fee, this annual street festival features “numerous interactive art installations and games, local artists showcasing their creations and twelve hours of all-original music.” The festivities kick off at 1 pm.
Among the sights to be seen at this year’s FooFest is a 70s-themed, 4-hole mini golf course presented by the Providence-based events company, Woolly Productions, a joint venture of artists Sam White and Erin Murphy. When they’re not busy planning for the annual Woolly Fair at Monahasset Mill, the team of White and Murphy are creating some very innovative and fun public installation projects around town, including a recent bridge exhibition for the Apeiron Institute for Sustainable Living. And they’re not the least bit sheepish about their ideas. You never know, you may even find yourself attending a theme party in Providence that they fashioned.
City News caught up with the ingenious pair at the AS220 Café for a behind-the-scenes look at the woolly world.
What are you guys cooking up for the FooFest?
Erin: We are doing our mini-golf courses, which is called The Links: Fearless Mobile Mini-Golf. We have four courses.
Sam: It sort of looks like a 1970s living room. It’s got all the different kinds of colored carpet laid together in different patterns. We use stuffed animal sand traps. It’s very much like a paneled rec room of the 70s and brought to life in miniature golf.
Erin: People should have a blast! It will be great.
How did your production company come to be?
Erin: Sam has been doing Woolly Fair for the past five years. We work together at a publishing company in town. We sort of discovered that we have a common interest in creating these interactive art parties. So we teamed up and became incorporated and became Woolly Productions.
Sam: The Woolly Fair is sort of like a giant art party freak-out occasion in which we enlist many artists and people of all different affiliations to come and build stuff in advance. It’s like a build-your-own-carnival kind of experience. We just finished our fifth year at Monahassett Mill in July.
Woolly Productions capitalizes on the ground-level artistic energy of the city in creating large-scale participatory events that utilize all of the different talents and friendships that we have. We’re really interested ultimately in building an organism that really involves as many people as possible in creating these event experiences that happen once and then happen again in a different form that is unique for that moment.
Where does the “woolly” part come from?
Sam: I grew up in a sheep farm and I’ve always been fond of sheep and the way I’ve come to think about the woolly part is to mean both warm and chaotic. I think it encompasses the whole nature of the Woolly Fair itself, wherein it’s sort of an experience that embraces you but also comes at you from all directions.
What are your artistic backgrounds?
Erin: I have a graphic design background.
Sam: I’ve have a B.A. in painting and a Masters in poetry.
Okay, so is venture this like an innovative way for each of you to exhibit public projects as artists?
Sam: Yeah. Personally I moved up from Brooklyn, NY six years ago with my wife and we moved in to Monahasset Mill, which is a condo-arts collective. It has always interested me to create aesthetic things, events, and projects with other people – and in many ways, to create things that are ephemeral. They’re here today and then you take them down and they’re gone. I think that’s what we’re shooting for.
How do you come up with the kinds of participatory events that you produce?
Erin: Most of the events have some sort of a theme and then really, the concept behind many of them is interaction and full participation. So we really want everybody who comes to these events to participate somehow in a creative way. I think it’s most exciting when people who aren’t artists or don’t consider themselves artists come and are able to create something or interact in an interesting way. It really creates this magic in the events.
Why is it important to you to engage your audiences more actively in your public performances or events?
Sam: I think it’s a form of citizenship in a way. We live in a participatory democracy and these events are sort of like microcosmic representations of something larger. At Woolly Fair, we create these countries and we invite people to pretend that they’re citizens of these countries. I like to think that participation at these events is a form of citizenship.
Fill in this phrase: Woolly Productions is a good fit for Providence because …
Erin: Providence is a great venue for this kind of a business. I think about trying to start something like this in Boston and it just doesn’t seem as viable. Providence is great because we have this network of artists and creative people that are just wonderful. It’s small enough that you get to know everybody and you really get a sense of community here. Also, we can afford our rent!
Sam: It’s important to note that the city is just so invested in the art culture here. It’s a lot easier to get away with riskier stuff – and I mean, aesthetically risky and nothing other than that. I mean with us building this mini-golf project, for example, I think it’s great that the city has identified with artists that are taking chances like this.
Erin: I think it’s really unique because we’re asking people to engage in a different way. We’re asking people to come and play basically and that is, in and of itself, an art form – interaction. A lot of artists just sort of function individually in a studio space and then they put their art out to the world. We’re asking people to come and participate and create. It’s so open and it forms a community around the activity.
What kind of participation do you want people to have with the mini-golf event at FooFest?
Sam: The idea with the golf is that we continue to build it and we’d like to eventually enlist as many people as possible to come in and build their own golf holes. For the time being, it’s been conceived by a handful of people and we have it in play right now. The participation there is in the construction of it.
Do you build everything from scratch?
Sam: Yeah, we build all of our own props and again, we enlist artist friends to come up with stuff as well. With a lot of our projects, we germinate the ideas and then set them free into the environment for people to pick up on.
Can party organizers, planners, anyone, book you for your events?
Sam: Yes. The golf can be rented as a one-night thing. We rent out different aspects of our business.
What sets you apart from the traditional methods of event, or party, production? Are you a modern, adult version of the inflatable bouncer houses one would rent at a kids party?
Sam: What we bring to the table is the willingness to create installations that are very site-specific and event-specific. A good example is we’re working with the Apeiron Institute for Sustainable Living on their sustainability festival. We worked on that this year. We built a bridge, a gateway to the event out of knotweed. Knotweed is an invasive species here on the East Coast and we cut it down like bamboo and then bound it together to create this bridge with all these bright colors. So you could walk through it like a gate. It was this very cheap and kinda’ engaging structure.
But we do soup-to-nuts too. We’ll have DJs, things like that – we can coordinate the whole event for you. I would say that what sets us apart, I think, is that we’re aesthetically innovative. And we can do a lot of things and use a lot of found materials.
Erin: We focus on play for adults. We want to engage them in a playful, interactive way.
What’s next for you guys? What do you envision for the woolly future?
Sam: I think we’re going to continue to farm the mini-golf out and maybe get some more people on board with that. We’ll be working with folks like Apeiron and continuing to stir up Woolly Fair and go from there.
Erin: We’re interested in consulting with different groups on their events, whether it be non-profit or with corporate clients. We’re really interested in creating these unique, engaging events.
Woolly Productions' website, www.thewooled.com, is currently under construction. For more information, you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. For the lineup at AS220 FooFest, go to www.as220.org/foofest.