Spring Writes!

A decade’s anniversary is a respectable milestone for any local festival. And while many Ithaca-area fests celebrate food, crafts and popular music, few give much attention to the more esoteric arts.

Conceived as a celebration of Ithaca’s diverse wordmongers, Spring Writes fits the bill perfectly. The festival is the brainchild of former Community Arts Partnership director (and current Cinemapolis head) Brett Bossard. Organized by the local arts council, it has grown considerably since its first iteration in 2009, which featured 16 events. This year’s program includes an impressive 43 events with 125 regional writers.

Spring Writes will take place from Thursday, May 2 to Sunday, May 5, with most of the events happening over the final two days. The eight participating venues are all located within easy walking distance of the Commons. 

Much of the nuts-and-bolts of arranging the festival falls to Robin Schwartz, long-time program director at CAP. Schwartz spoke from the council’s new offices on the third floor of the Tompkins Center for History and Culture. She was enthusiastic about the range and quality of this year’s programming. “This is an extraordinary festival, mostly because of the extraordinary talent we have in this area,” she said.

Each year, Schwartz works with an artistic director, chosen from the local literary community. Past directors have (in succession) included luminaries Leslie Daniels, Bob Proehl and Jennifer Savran Kelly.

Kathryn Henion returns to fill these shoes for a second year. A fiction writer and communications consultant, Henion has a long-time connection with the area, having grown up in Trumansburg, as well as the festival itself. 

Henion stressed the value of bridging diverse audiences in a college town with a healthy independent culture. 

”I’ve always been very interested in connecting university culture with community culture because I just think incredible things happen when we put people from different backgrounds together,” she explained.

Schwartz and Henion discussed how Spring Writes differs from other, more specialist-oriented literary gatherings. 

“This is open to the general public,” Schwartz said. “I think that this is unique in size and variety. I’m very proud of it.” 

While the two women have tried to make everything accessible, they have also maintained a dual focus. According to Schwartz: “We wanted something that was of interest to the established writers and the general public.”

Some events target children or teenagers, while “fun things in the evening,” such as Friday’s “Moetry: Music and Poetry” and Saturday’s “Seven Minutes in Heaven: a spin-the-bottle of the arts” (both at Lot 10), promise a more grown-up atmosphere.

One of Bossard’s original goals for the Spring Writes was to bridge highbrow and popular writing. This year’s rendition continues to honor his intention. A Saturday screening of “Worlds of Ursula Le Guin,” a documentary on the late science fiction/fantasy master. will be followed by a panel discussion with Ithaca College professor Katharine Kittredge and local author Bob Proehl. On Sunday, a workshop featuring novelists Jeanne Mackin, Nancy Holzner, and Nancy Ohlin will illuminate “The Art of Popular Fiction.”

One of the most distinctive features of Spring Writes is a cross-pollination with Ithaca’s other lively arts scenes. The performing arts—particularly music, theatre and oral literature— are a key part of the festival. 

And while dance might seen like a quintessentially non-verbal artform, Saturday’s events include something called “Word World Whirl: Movement and Word Soundscape.” A collaboration between dancer-choreographers Rik Daniels and Jeanne Goddard and multi-disciplinary artist Jim Self, the performance will incorporate sound, language and gesture.

Words intersect just as deeply with the visual arts. The second day of the fête coincides with Gallery Night, the CAP-sponsored monthly Friday evening of downtown opening receptions. Recently opened on the first floor of the Tompkins Center, CAP’s expanded ArtSpace gallery will feature, for its May exhibition, “Art and the Written Word,” with 21 artists showing pieces integrating writing or narrative. 

The handmade book has emerged in recent decades as a newly revived and recognized artistic form. Lead by Lara Scott and Kate Blackwood of The Metamer Quarterly, a Sunday “Book + Art” workshop will make the art accessible to beginners, encouraging them to write and to build. 

Schwartz stressed the accessible and unpretentious nature of the festival. 

“Just come, just show up, have a seat,” she promised. 

While most of Spring Writes is free and open to anybody, a few events require payment or advance registration. A modest $5 contribution will net visitors a button, which is good for discounts at several downtown businesses.

SPRING WRITES

More information, including a complete schedule of events, can be found at the festival webpage: artspartner.org/content/view/spring-writes

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