Q & A: Exclusive Interview with University of Wynwood Founder Scott Cunningham

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O, Miami, the city’s first poetry festival, launches in less than one month on April 1st, and set to last the whole month of April (this is no April Fools’ joke). I recently got the opportunity to speak with Scott Cunningham, the founder of the University of Wynwood, about the upcoming poetic festival and Miami.

You can definitely take his word for it.

Q: Why do you think poetry is haute?

A: I’ve always thought people perceived it as crusty or touchy-feely. Haute makes it sound like people have Elizabeth Bishop books in the glove boxes of their Bentleys. Either way, poetry gets a bad rep, or it gives itself a bad rep. The fact is it’s a very difficult art form, and most of the poeple you encounter who do it are probably pretty terrible at it. I think it’s similar to live theater in that way. Also, what you learn about poetry in high school (dead white guys, culminating with Robert Frost) is like studying film and stopping at John Ford. How you were taught poetry was probably akin to someone showing you “The Searchers,” except they stop it every 30 seconds and force you to give the scientific names of all the breeds of horses before they’ll press PLAY again.

Q: What is the mission of the University of Wynwood? And what are your hopes for its future?

A: Currently the mission is as follows: “University of Wynwood (UW) curates events and projects that advance contemporary poetry in Miami, FL.” We’re experimenting with expanding that, as we’ve learned that our interests exceed that mission. In the long term, we’re interested in creating an imaginary Miami that exists alongside or in counterpoint to the real Miami, with the purpose of pointing the way to an alternative present. This mission is downright pedestrian in the art world, but in the literary word, I’m not sure it exists.

We’ve also found that we’re passionate about public transportation and are developing/researching theories about how public transit affects (in real, tangible ways) a city’s literary production.

Q: What response have you received in regards to the University of Wynwood?

A: The response that I’ve received has been overwhelmingly positive. There are always people who don’t get it – “So it’s a fake university?!” But that’s part of the fun. We don’t necessarily understand UW. As soon as we do, we’ll abandon it.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for O, Miami?

A: O, Miami is a combination of the brainpower of Peter Borrebach, Alberto Ibarguen, Campbell McGrath, Mitchell Kaplan, Tom Healy, and me. I can’t take sole credit for it. It came out of a number of conversations between a bunch of different combinations of the people listed above.

Q: Can you give the readers a sneak preview of some of the activities and/or events that will take place during O, Miami?

A: James Franco reading poetry in the New World Symphony Hall. Anne Carson reading NOX in the Moore Building while dancers from the Merce Cunningham Troupe interpret her words. Rappers squaring off against poets. Poetry tours of Fairchild Tropical Gardens, The Wolfsonian, and MOCA. Poems hidden in the menus of popular restaurants. Poems inside county buses, and two different original art exhibiions that invite audience participation. And so many more things, it will hurt your brain to try and remember all of it.

Q: Which local person would you like to collaborate and/or work with?

A: That’s tough. There are so many good choices. Well, I’ve collaborated with Jim Drain a couple of times and that never gets old. In fact, it gets the opposite of old. I’ve also loved collaborating with Kaleidoscope Collective and am looking forward to doing that again. Other local I’ve done projects with that I love include (in no particular order) Nina Johnson, Ruba Katrib, Christy Gast, John Lin, Cristina Favretto, Cristina Nosti, Rene Morales, Naomi Fisher, Eduardo Hinriques, Lucas Leyva & the rest of the Borscht family, Matt Gajewski, Richard Massey, Tom Healy, Dan Milewski, Deborah Briggs, the Jacuzzi Boys, Beached Miami, and of course, Gean Moreno, who is super smart and always has a new idea.

If we’re talking about people, I’ve never worked with though, I’d love to do a project with Daniel Arsham. and I really love what Thom Collins is bringing to MAM. Also, Billy Corben, Sam & Turi from FriendsWithYou, Jen Stark, Coral Morpholoigic, Justin Long, Young Arts, and so on and so forth.

Q: Why Miami?

A: Me being in Miami was a bit of an accident, but a happy one. I’m now of the opinion that this is the best city in the United States to be doing creative work because: a) we have an influx of private investment in the arts, most notably from the Knight Foundation; b) we have one of the brightest and committed public servants in the country in Michael Spring (Miami-Dade Department of Cultural Affairs), who is constantly working on our behalf; c) we’re building or have built some of the most exciting venues in the country (New World Symphony, Miami Art Museum, Arsht Center, Fairchild Tropical Gardens, etc.); d) we have world class programming nearly year round (Miami Book Fair, Art Basel, etc.); and e) most importantly, we have a very tight-knit group of young artists who care about the city, are willing to collaborate and just want to make stuff happen because that’s what artists do (as opposed to making stuff in order to become Damien Hirst). These are the salad days people. Enjoy them. Have I mentioned that I love Miami?

Q: What’s your TOP 5 Miami?

1. Alexandra Cunningham

2. Lester’s (forthcoming, see lestersmiami.com)

3. Michael’s Genuine

4. Books & Books (all locations)

5. The karaoke bar beneath the Shelbourne Hotel

For more information about O, Miami or the University of Wynwood, visit their websites. Be the first to know about upcoming events by signing up to their mailing list.

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