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Art Tougeau returning to Lawrence with a party Friday, parade Saturday

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The kinetic creativity of Art Tougeau is coming back to downtown Lawrence this weekend.

The Lawrence Arts Center will welcome one and all to downtown Lawrence, starting with a Final Friday street party. That’s set for 6 to 9 p.m. in front of the center, 940 New Hampshire St.

The celebration will reconvene at the Arts Center at 10 a.m. Saturday prior to the parade, which starts at noon.

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Those who arrive ahead of the parade can “come to the main lobby to make your own wind-powered art car, then step outside and watch art students make prints using an industrial size steamroller,” according to a Thursday email from the Arts Center.

Of course, these events will be complemented by the Lawrence Busker Festival, which also returns Friday and runs through the long weekend. See a full schedule of performers and a map of the many stages at this link.

In case you missed it, here’s a feature we originally published Feb. 9 after Art Tougeau’s return was announced. Read on to learn more about what goes into the event and why people keep coming back year after year.

After a two-year hiatus, Art Tougeau will bring a collective of cars, bicycles, skateboards, scooters and other wheeled art to a street party in front of the Lawrence Arts Center.

As always, Art Tougeau welcomes parade entries from anyone wanting to participate. This year, organizers hoped to spark even more interest by offering three $500 grants to offset costs that go into a creation.

“It has a guerilla arts feel to it,” said Pat Slimmer, who steers the annual Art Tougeau events along with a team of volunteers. “It’s not only about cars; it’s any wheeled art. A big part of our parade has always been the decorated bicycles and the different creations.”

Past events have brought art cars from across the country, but many come to the parade each year to see familiar favorites created by locals with little more than a dream and some wheels that can be attached.

Local artists Kent Smith and Matthew Lord collaborated on their Art Tougeau entry in 2012 after receiving a free Volkswagen Rabbit with the directive to turn it into “some kind of skull/dragon car.” Smith said that although they initially intended to follow those directions, the car itself sent them down a different path.

“Once we had the car in front of us and saw how dang cute this little rabbit was, we decided to go a different route,” he said. “Over the next week we worked nonstop to make the sweetest and most adorable art car we could, featuring a flying narwhal, puffer fish hot air balloon, anthropomorphic baked goods, and all sorts of magic.”

After several years, Smith said, he and Lord determined that the car should be a jackalope, which led to the addition of ears and horns. Over the years the car has seen many improvements, including the addition of frosted donut hubcaps and ever-larger ears and horns.

Lord and Smith planned to begin preparations soon for this year’s event, but they were maintaining realistic expectations rather than making big plans.

“We need to start checking on to see if the Jackalope wants to start up and join in the fun this year,” Smith said. “Fingers crossed we will be there with a car, but no matter what we will be there to see all the fun.”

Ann Dean attended her first Art Tougeau as a photographer in 2007 and has been a fan of the event ever since. Like many, she is a fan of creations by Eric Farnsworth, whose surf bike is propelled by a cyclist hanging prone and pedaling underneath a surfboard that can be ridden above.

Dean said the nationally renowned art cars that frequently come to town for the event are always interesting, but it is the creativity of the Lawrence community that keeps her coming back each year.

“Art Tougeau is open to everyone who wants to participate and to people from around the country, so it creates a unique feel that you might not experience with other events,” she said. “It’s always fun to see different ideas and interpretations year after year, and how the event has grown. It’s a great community event, and everyone loves a parade.”

Though some of the wildest parade entries in the past have been created by artists and professionals with a background in design and fabrication, most Art Tougeau participants are enthusiasts who create their entries from scraps, collections, and vehicles of all kinds that have seen better days.

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Smith said that kind of creativity celebrates the power of artwork and collaboration, and disrupts the status quo by breaking rules and challenging “the idea of what our reality could be.”

“Viewers are inspired to see things of little value transformed through creative process and intention and elevated from the mundane and the worthless into something unexpected and priceless,” he said.

Art Tougeau began in 1998 with the intent to foster exactly that kind of creativity and ingenuity. Slimmer said he hopes to encourage everyone in the community not only to watch, but also participate.

Smith said that while creating the jackalope with Lord has been a worthwhile endeavor, he most values the memories of their kids participating in the process.

“They helped paint the car and love riding along waving at friends and blowing bubbles from the windows,” he said. “I love that our kids have grown up with this being something we do.”

More information about the event is available at arttougeau.org.

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Andrea Albright (she/her), reporter, can be reached at aalbright (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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