Sonic Lunch Brings Beautiful Music to Pop-Up Placemaking in Ann Arbor

IMG_2461Pop-up placemaking is all about light, quick, cheap and often temporary ways to energize and activate a public space. It can take many forms, and a coworker and I saw a perfect example today in Ann Arbor: the Sonic Lunch.

It was an absolutely pristine, beautiful summer day, when getting out in the sun and fresh air for a few minutes can completely wash away those midday office blahs.  At first only a few dozen people lingered around the shaded benches of the small downtown park. But soon, hundreds were clustered there, lured in by the sound of acoustic guitars and melodic vocals drifting across the breeze beneath the trees.

There were families pushing baby strollers, retirees in shorts and sun visors, students in t-shirts and sandals, office workers in khakis and button-down cotton shirts. And every one of them was smiling.IMG_2462

If this isn’t what pop-up placemaking is all about, I don’t know what is.

Sonic Lunch started in 2008, sponsored by the Bank of Ann Arbor. It’s a free summer outdoor concert series in the park at the corner of Liberty and Division in downtown Ann Arbor (a few blocks to the east of Main).

The free concerts typically run from noon to 1:30 pm every Thursday from early June to late August. The live bands run the gamut from alt-indie to Motown. Today’s music was Family of the Year, a popular indie band hailing from Los Angeles.

The pop-up project was the result of a collaboration between the Bank of Ann Arbor and Ann Arbor Radio-107.7 fm. The station’s morning DJ Martin Bandyke hosts the concerts and promotes them on-air.

Besides providing a great sense of spontaneous community and cultural enrichment, the event is an economic boost to the downtown area. Each week, a different local restaurant is onsite selling Sonic Lunch, while other restaurants might offer special discounts for those who want to pick up something to carry in to the park.

Perich Advertising & Design, a local advertising agency, contributes the annual design of Sonic Lunch posters, banners, t-shirts, and stickers to help keep the event self-supporting and able to bring in both national and international acts of a caliber one might not expect to find at a free outdoor concert.IMG_2534

By the time we left, it felt as if lunch hour had been a tiny little summer vacation wedged into the middle of our day. And it made me feel lucky to work in Ann Arbor, where something like a Sonic Lunch is a regular part of the cultural landscape.

One small afterthought: I believe the park is also the same spot that hosted Occupy Wall Street last year, so obviously Ann Arbor’s city leaders are open to creative ideas on the use of public spaces. Kudos all around!