Creative Fusion: The Lord Can’t Make You Burn


Adib Dada | Lebanon

Monica Lewis-Patrick | Detroit

Kizito Johnson | Uganda

Sadhu Johnston | British Columbia

PechaKucha founder Mark Dytham | Tokyo


PechaKucha Night Cleveland


PechaKucha Night Cleveland marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuyahoga River fire with presentations on the next half-century of water conservation.


Aerial photo of the Cuyahoga River by Michael Tsegaye (Ethiopia) Courtesy of the Cleveland Print Room

An unfolding environmental disaster may seem like a poor backdrop for a romantic scene, but by the end of Crooked River Burning, Mark Winegardner’s 2001 novel, it makes perfect sense. The story of would-be lovers David and Anne is woven through the history of Cleveland in the middle third of the twentieth century, and is as much about love of place as it is love of another person. And as anyone who loves Cleveland knows, the city was once so despoiled that water sometimes caught fire—most famously in June 1969.

There is a certain symmetry, too, to marking the event that launched both a thousand jokes and, arguably, the modern environmental movement. Not as a “rebranding” exercise—that’s been done—but as an occasion to look forward, to the next fifty years of conserving the most precious resource on the planet. “Waterways” is the theme of Global PechaKucha Night, happening June 20 (two days shy of the fiftieth anniversary of the last fire) at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica (on the very same river).

For the uninitiated, PechaKucha is a presentation style with tight rules: 20 images, with 20 seconds of narration for each. The format originated in Tokyo in 2003. The name comes from a Japanese term for “chit chat,” and is pronounced any number of ways.

“I don’t care how you pronounce it, as long as you show up,” says local organizer Michael Christoff, whose version sounds like “pe-CHUK-uh.” Christoff and Aseem Garg founded PechaKucha Night Cleveland in 2008. Today there are more than 1,100 chapters around the world, but Cleveland’s is one of the longest running.

“Like all good ideas do, it started at a bar,” Christoff explained in his own presentation marking PKCLE’s tenth birthday. He and Garg were discussing Cleveland’s many creative communities, and how cut off from each other they seemed to be. “Our communities were supporting themselves, but not one another.”

They saw PechaKucha as a way to bridge those divides. “The real beauty of PechaKucha is that its rapid pace allows people to stick around after hearing from their friend the photographer to the also hear from the architect they never met or the fashion designer they’ve never heard of. Everyone walks away from the evening with a different opinion about which presentations were best, but our hope is that everyone walks away with an opinion about something.”

Last year, the Cleveland Foundation approached the PKCLE team about incorporating an event into the Foundation’s 2019 Creative Fusion program, titled Waterways to Waterways. With funding for the first time, PechaKucha Night Cleveland was able to invite international speakers, including Adib Dada, an architect in Beirut, Lebanon, who leads Restoring the Toxic Beirut River;

Monica Lewis-Patrick, aka The Water Warrior, co-founder of water-rights organization We the People of Detroit; Kizito Johnson, Uganda programs director for Drink Local Drink Tap; and Sadhu Johnston, city manager for Vancouver, British Columbia, and former Clevelander (co-founder of the Cleveland Green Building Coalition).

PechaKucha founder Mark Dytham is flying in from Tokyo, and discussion with other speakers were still underway in mid-April, when this article was completed.

“And not one has said no,” Christoff said at the time. “That’s a testament to how much they care.” He hopes they’ll be able to stay through the following Saturday, when the Museum of Art hosts its annual Solstice celebration.

Global PechaKucha takes place at 7 pm Thursday, June 20 at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica.

For updates, visit the PechaKucha Night in Cleveland Facebook page ( or website (