By Andrew Cappetta, Manager of Collection and Exhibition Programs
Literary Cleveland is a nonprofit organization and creative writing center that empowers people to explore other voices and discover their own. Through an expanding roster of multilevel classes, workshops, and events, Literary Cleveland assists writers and readers at all stages of development, promotes new and existing literature of the highest quality, and advances Northeast Ohio as a vital center of diverse voices and visions. The Cleveland Museum of Art is fortunate to have developed an evolving program partnership with Literary Cleveland, providing space at the CMA for Northeast Ohio writers while also connecting new audiences to both organizations.
In 2020, the exhibition Stories from Storage brought both organizations together for a series of virtual Desktop Dialogue programs. With Matt Weinkam, Literary Cleveland’s executive director, as the programs’ co-curator and co-host, we invited local writers and storytellers, including playwright Eric Coble, food historian Sarah Lohman, musical collective Mourning [A] BLKstar, and poet Kamden Hilliard, to construct narratives from objects on view in the show. The resulting monologue, conversation, performance, and poem not only brought new and unforeseen interpretations to light, but also foregrounded the idea that there are multiple ways to see a work of art.
In October 2020, the collaboration between Literary Cleveland and the CMA continued with an open call for dark, fantastic, and suspenseful writing inspired by the visionary art of French painter and printmaker Odilon Redon. A panel including Weinkam and Michelle R. Smith, Literary Cleveland’s programming associate, selected ten writers from a pool of stellar submissions to present at a public reading event perfectly timed for Halloween. Given the success of this open call, the two organizations collaborated on another exhibition program. Writers from across the United States wrote poems and short stories inspired by the works on view in Currents and Constellations: Black Art in Focus; 13 were chosen to read at the event Represent: Writing Inspired by Black Art.
When organizations partner on initiatives, the resulting projects must be mutually beneficial, helping both institutions fulfill their missions and serve their communities. As a nimble four-person operation, Literary Cleveland has always been willing to work around the CMA’s schedule. So, for our next collaboration, I felt that it was important to demonstrate that the CMA could be an equally supportive partner and respond to Literary Cleveland’s needs. Looking at our calendars, we found a point of synergy. In February 2023, their Flash Fiction Festival (dedicated to short form writing under 1,000 words) playfully resonated with the subject of the CMA exhibition China through the Magnifying Glass: Masterpieces in Miniature and Detail. An idea was born, which is now coming to fruition this weekend.
Literary Cleveland’s online Flash Fiction Festival has grown immensely in the past three years, with the 2023 edition developed in collaboration with the new Norton anthology Flash Fiction America (out on February 14). From February 19 to 25, writers will be able to work with some of the best flash fiction writers and editors in the country to draft new pieces, share their work, and learn where and how to publish.
The festival will be preceded on Saturday, February 18, by a free in-person Flash Fiction Workshop at the CMA led by Literary Cleveland. All are invited. Participants will learn about the exhibition China through the Magnifying Glass, review example flash fiction texts, and write their own micro fiction inspired by the Chinese miniatures in the gallery. On the same day, Literary Cleveland will also host the drop-in event Artist in the Atrium: Fun with Flash Fiction as part of Play Day: Big and Small, an afternoon of family-friendly activities about the different ways artists experiment with scale in their work. In addition to trying their hand at writing flash fiction, Play Day participants will also have the chance to zoom in on real art objects with microscopes from the CMA’s objects conservation lab, explore artworks from the CMA’s education art collection, make a personal seal or stamp, create a mini book and zine, and collaborate on a giant drawing.
The partnership between Literary Cleveland and the Cleveland Museum of Art has been incredibly fruitful. I am eager to see this collaboration grow even further, serving the community of writers in Northeast Ohio while also inspiring audiences at the CMA to reflect and respond through writing.