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ARTPoems inspires creative collaboration

By Staff | Feb 16, 2011

Lorraine Vail’s poem “Prima Donna,” inspired Susan Sadler's painting for ARTPoems 2010.

Ekphrasis is a Greek word that defines a literary description of or commentary on a visual work of art — but you can just call it “ARTPoems.”

“We don’t use the word ekphrasis because it’s off-putting,” said ARTPoems co-founder Lorraine Vail, but that’s exactly what this beloved, albeit still somewhat new, tradition is based on.

ARTPoems began five years ago when Vail and another island poet, Joe Pacheco, decided to go to the Sanibel Public Library and seek inspiration — via ekphrasis — by viewing the Sanibel-Captiva Art League’s annual display.

What followed was a flurry of creative collaboration between a handful of island poets and artists and the result was the first ever ARTPoems.

“We had the opportunity to present at Phillips Gallery and we had no idea how it was going to go. We didn’t rehearse, and we ended up having such an amazing collaboration. Both the artists and the poets were thrilled that their art was interpreted in a new way. I call it shaking the muse loose — getting to write in a different way. It’s a challenge because you’re writing based on something visual and interpreting that piece.”

In the ARTPoems selection process, artists and poets are paired up randomly through a raffle, and then each one presents five poems or five pieces of artwork. The poet selects one piece and then writes a poem inspired by it, the artist selects a poem and makes a piece inspired by it.

Then, both artist and poet — or musician, as music is now a large part of ARTPoems — share their new works at a special presentation at BIG ARTS and the Alliance for the Arts, thanks to Pam Brodersen, who puts all the images and poems together to be projected on a screen for the actual show.

But the key word when it comes to ARTPoems is “inspiration.”

“We try to get the feeling of the painting or the artwork, but also what it evokes in us,” Pacheco said. “We don’t try to figure out exactly what the artist is doing — that’s why we say inspired by or interpreted by, not representative of. It’s about a feeling and an idea — when you put a poem to music, it becomes a song — and the result is 24 new works of art that wouldn’t have existed before. But it’s not restricted to poetry and painting — there’s sculpture, cloth, papier mache, even music.”

And this year, ARTPoems will delve into the world of digital media, as artist — and singer — Doug MacGregor interprets Pacheco’s poem “Stranger in my Eye” into a cinematic and musical format.

“We have a very diverse and dynamic group this year, I’m so proud of the collaborative effort,” Vail said. “When you have this collaboration it gives a new dimension to all the work and people have really gone the extra mile this year.”

“It’s a big success now and it’s become a Southwest event,” Pacheco said.“The heart of it is still Sanibel and BIG ARTS, but when we go to the Alliance, we’re at the center of the Southwest Florida arts community.”

Collaborating visual artists are Peg Cullen, Martha Graham, Philip Heubeck, James Hixson, Shelia Hoen, Hollis Jeffcoat, Dennis Joyce, David King, Doug MacGregor, Don Mauer, Andi McCarter, and J.R. Roberts. The poets are Brittney Brady, Jim Brock, Carol Drummond, Katelyn Gravel, Sandy Greco, Linda Mary Mashie, Bob Maxeiner, Jesse Millner, Joseph Pacheco, Sid Simon, Larry Stiles, and Lorraine Vail.

Musicians include Gulf Coast Symphony musicians Dr. John Green, Erica Griswold, Richard Skewes and Beth Warner.

ARTPoems will take place at BIG ARTS Schein Performance Hall, 900 Dunlop Road, on Friday, Feb. 25. There will be a reception beginning at 7 p.m., with the presentation to follow at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 general admission.

Another ARTPoems presentation will take place at the Alliance for the Arts at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 3. Alliance for the Arts is located at 10091 MacGregor Boulevard in Fort Myers.

For more information about ARTPoems, go to www.BIGARTS.org.