Celebrating the written word

Spring Writes Literary Festival turns 10 years old this year

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Before Spring Writes Literary Festival, the Finger Lakes area celebrated apples, and music, and art, but didn’t really have an event centered on literature and writing. The New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) noted the absence and called up the Community Arts Partnership to encourage CAP to apply for state funds to create one. Thus, the festival was born and has seen tremendous growth and participation ever since.


“We took on that challenge with very little money,” said Robin Schwartz, Program Director for CAP. “We started by collecting a lot of local events that were already happening – like at Buffalo Street Books and the library – and putting them under one umbrella and creating some workshops.”


The very first festival had around 16 events. Now, it has over 40.


Spring Writes events and workshops are chosen through a Request For Proposal process sent out to local writers, artists, and community members. Like with all CAP events, Schwartz wants to help people understand just what a large pool of local talent there is in the area.


“We have an amazing group of artists who have chosen to live here,” Schwartz said. “One of the things about this event … I think that visual artists and writers tend to work alone, and this festival brings them out to be exposed to the general public. It’s also part of our mission to match up artists with audiences.”


It’s the amazing pool of local artists that have helped keep this event going for 10 years now, Schwartz said. It’s why she’s not surprised that the festival has lasted this long. When she puts out the call for grant applications she’s inundated by the active and engaged community of artists. But, it’s not just the people putting on the events that have made the festival a success. It’s also the people attending them.


“There’s always audiences who look forward to these events every year,” Schwartz said. “The events become something that people look forward to as an annual experience.”


The events at this year’s festival vary widely along interests, age groups, and even forms. Thursday, May 2, day one of the four-day event, has poetry at Buffalo Street Books, and a storytelling event at Lot 10. Friday, May 3, includes a teen writing workshop, a film screening, a gallery night that will exhibit pieces that mix art and the written word, and several poetry events. With over 40 events, there’s likely something in the schedule that will cater to your interests, even if you’re not a writer.


“This festival has turned into something so freaking cool,” Schwartz said. “The events are so impressive and there’s something for everybody.”


Practically all of the events are open to everyone, but there are events aimed at more established writers, like the workshops about publishing. The first three evenings of the festival include entertainment for the general public who are fans of the written word. On Saturday evening, seven writers will team up with seven musicians and seven actors at the “Seven Minutes in Heaven: a spin-the-bottle of the arts” performance event at Lot 10. Before the event, the writers will be matched with an actor through spin-the-bottle. Saturday night, the actors will be spin-matched with a musician who will freestyle a performance as the actors read the works of the local artist they were matched with for seven minutes.


The festivals artistic director changes frequently to keep the ideas fresh and the connections to local writers and artists growing. This year’s artistic director is Kathryn Henion, a local writer. The festival works to highlight and support writers and artists from the Tompkins County area, to connect the community to the artists right in their own backyard.


“We are the Tompkins County Arts Council, so we are not looking, necessarily, to bring artists up from other cities,” Schwartz said. “We want to showcase the local talent.”


This year the festival received around 90 proposals for events that were carefully, and somewhat painfully, pared down to 40 by Henion and a jury. Some of the events were Tompkins County Public Library events that were folded into the festival and were not part of the RFP process.


During the jury process, Schwartz said they are looking for variety, and things both the writers and the audience would be interested in. Some events, like the readings hosted and curated by Stone Canoe Literary Journal, have returned to the festival more than once. But each year brings new works from new writers. Unless otherwise noted, all the events are free. Only a handful require registration.


“We do appreciate it when people buy a button to support the festival,” Schwartz said. “Please buy a button for $5 or more to support the festival.”


Funding for the festival comes from several areas. The NYSCA, the Tompkins County Tourism Program, Poets and Writers (a grant-giving organization for writers and workshops), and sponsorships from Ithaca College, Wegmans, and M&T Bank.


“Without the sponsors, we’d have to charge admission and I just don’t want to do that,” Schwartz said. “We just want as many local people as possible to feel comfortable going to these events.”


A full schedule of events can be found at artspartner.org/content/view/spring-writes-schedule.

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