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Ingenuity Fest 2010

The streetcar tracks that make up the lower level of the Detroit-Superior Bridge have not been traditionally functional in 55 years. These lines that ran across the Cuyahoga River discontinued transport in 1955, and have not been renovated or touched since, with only the current automobile-accessible bridge built above the subway line. Aside from being open for public tours three times a year and an official renaming to the Veterans Memorial Bridge and an addition to the National Register of Historic Places, the bridge has seen little to no practical use until the last few years.

Six years ago, a board of artists, businesspeople, and technicians got together to host the first annual Ingenuity Festival in Cleveland, a weekend-long tribute to close out the summer and to celebrate the countless creative minds that dwell in the city, and the works they’ve created. In past years, the event was held in various different places throughout the city, including Playhouse Square, and its surrounding downtown area. Last year, parts of Ingenuity Fest expanded to the Detroit-Superior Bridge as an experiment, and this year, the festival was held the entirely and exclusively. As a location that not only confines the festival to a large, yet defined space, but adds to its mystique, establishing the festival amidst a compelling backdrop of decay and ruin, The Detroit-Superior Bridge ended up being a perfect location.

The festival ran last weekend, from Friday, Sept. 24 through Sunday, Sept. 26, and featured a wide array of art installments, live music, technological quirks, and food. Many of Cleveland’s best-known artistic outlets found a home at the festival, from one-off displays to weekend-long stages of entertainment. Carnival food was also supplied at an annex just outside the bridge, and a speakeasy sold drinks in the far West end of the bridge.

Case Western Reserve University sponsored the event and featured a number of the festival’s most technically intriguing and impressive installations. Jared Bendis, who runs the Friedman center in Kelvin Smith Library, installed a creative iPad kaleidoscope-drawing system, and graduate student Alex Boxerbaum presented gorgeous time-lapse films.

Just outside the bridge, four CWRU alumni, Ian Charnas, Drew Ratcliff, Michael O’Toole and Andrew Witte, presented their unique attraction, a swingset waterfall turned into an interactive text messaging system. “We like technology mashups,” said Charnas, “Especially interactive ones where participants get to play with whatever it is you made.” The swingset was spearheaded and developed within a month, after which, “We were in San Mateo pushing a thousand wiggling kids on our waterfall swingset,” said Charnas.

Due to inclement weather, the group was forced to remove the swings, and instead came up with a different approach – allowing visitors to send texts to the waterfall, which would reproduce the messages in 20 foot falling sheets of water. “We printed hundreds of text messages, ranging from ‘I love you’ messages to brothers and sisters proclaiming which of them smells worse,” said Charnas.

The festival featured a variety of artistic installments and ventures, ranging from traditional displays of paintings and photography to hidden, decrepit rooms in the subway system, where the ruination of the room tied in with the art presented. Puff the Magic Dragon, created by the Collinwoodstockers, was a massive dragon made almost exclusively of duct tape, placed in a stairwell below the tracks partially submerged in water. Julius Lyles III utilized television screens to communicate race relation issues in his work Simulated Surrogates of Self. Sometimes the simplest ideas work the best, as in Dr. Sketchy’s Doodle Bar, simply a panel of white boards which guests were invited to doodle on at will throughout the weekend.

Live music was also featured prominently throughout the festival, with stages sponsored by different venues, groups, and organizations scattered across the bridge. Numerous classical musicians and opera companies found their voices, including pianist Angelin Chang, 2007 Grammy Award winner for best instrumental solo performance. A number of hip hop artists and DJs found a home at the festival, including Jahi, KEYEL and former Sugarhill Gang members Wonder Mike and Master Gee. Cleveland’s thriving indie rock and pop scene made its voice heard as well, with performances by Cloud Nothings, Hot Cha Cha, Boatzz, and JJ Magazine drawing great crowd response. Performances from jazz, folk, and reggae musicians also helped to keep entertainment strong and diverse.

Many guests and visitors were likely not sure what to expect of the festival. “I saw a flyer in the music department asking for volunteers, and I had nothing to do that weekend,” said first year CWRU student Zachary Myones, who solicited guests with surveys at the festival. “On my breaks, I’d just walk around and look at art and listen to bands… I wanted to see what it was about, and I really enjoyed it,” said Myones.

From the massive waterfall, lit by red lights in the evening and spraying passers-by with mist throughout the whole weekend, to the most minute intricacies within any given work of art on display, Ingenuity Fest proved that Cleveland was able to take something as downtrodden and seemingly useless as the Detroit-Superior subway and turn it into a communal center for expression and art, full of a distinct charm and an idiosyncratic sense of beauty and intrigue.

“Our motto is, why watch someone else have fun when you can have fun yourself,” said Charnas about his mission statement for his swingset. Such a mentality was evident throughout 2010’s Ingenuity Fest, a weekend full of interactive involvement and unique experiences sure to stay with anyone who visited.

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