Height Arts Adapts to the Temporary New Reality

Heights Arts events such as the popular Ekphrastacy program, where poets read works inspired by the visual art in current exhibitions, will be on hold for a while.

In a matter of a few weeks, Heights Arts went from full speed ahead on many events related to its twentieth anniversary to a full stop. “We had our opening for the Members Show on March 6,” recalled Heights Arts Executive Director Rachel Bernstein. “That was just as we were learning about the pandemic, and recommendations were changing daily. We were already planning to cut our open hours back the following week, which we did. By the following Monday, the governor was ordering the general shutdown, and we closed to the public until it is safe to reopen. We’re evaluating programming possibilities, but in light of the situation, it’s a question of our small staff capacity and available resources. Of course, this is true for all arts organizations and most small businesses—we are all in this together.”

For the moment, various events that had been scheduled for March and April are postponed. These include a Red Campion concert originally set for March 14 and a Cavani Quartet concert that had been scheduled for April 11; the twentieth anniversary exhibition Evolution is moved to July 10 through August 23 and Steven Calhoun’s spotlight show gets bumped to June 26 through August 10. Most likely to be postponed are the Joseph Van Kerkhove spotlight exhibition planned to open May 8, and the Close Encounters concert on May 3 at the Hermit Club. Four events have been cancelled outright: the Members Show Ekphrastacy on April 2 (though Heights Arts may come up with a way to present online poetry readings), the annual Show Off exhibition featuring work from Cleveland Heights High School students on June 12 through July 5, and the planned Posing the Question exhibition originally set for July 10 through August 23, along with its accompanying ekphrastic poetry event.

“We’re very saddened that we need to cancel the student show and postpone the twentieth anniversary exhibition,” said Bernstein, “but we’re very hopeful that we’ll be able to present Evolution in the summer, and that all the artists will still be able to participate. Meanwhile, we’re exploring all kinds of creative ways to reimagine what our poets, visual artists and musicians do. Plans are in the works for links to live or recorded poetry readings, and we have already begun showing our current Members Show online and will be providing new ways for the artists we serve to connect with the community via our website at heightsarts.org, Instagram @heightsarts , on Twitter @HeightsArts and on Facebook @Heights Arts.”

In at least one small sense, the show does go on, she notes. “To send out a little good news, I’m thrilled to announce that our Heights Writes Community Team has chosen Ray McNiece as the next Poet Laureate of Cleveland Heights!” The two-year appointment begins this month. The Cleveland Heights Poet Laureate was, for many years, the only poet laureateship in the state of Ohio, and is one of Heights Arts’ core programs. McNiece will be the tenth poet serving the community in this capacity.

“I had a heart attack a year ago,” said McNiece, “and that was kind of a reset moment for my life. This pandemic could be a reset moment for the planet. I have high hopes for being poet laureate. In the short term, we will find ways to respond creatively to our no-contact situation. I’ll be doing some workshops using Zoom, for example, which lets you do the livestream while also showing the printed poem on screen. But for me, nothing like that will ever replace the visceral experience of being in the room, making eye contact with the audience, and having that immediate synergy between the poem and the listener. It’s so in the moment. But until we can get back to that, we will improvise. Poetry is like a virus—it will find a way to live.”

Heights Arts events such as the popular Ekphrastacy program, where poets read works inspired by the visual art in current exhibitions, will be on hold for a while.


2175 Lee Road

Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44118