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Creativity from the shadows: Acktoberfest blends art, poetry and spoken word

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Chapel Hill students and residents gather for Ackland Art Museum's second annual Acktoberfest on Friday, Oct. 13, 2023. Acktoberfest is an event celebrating arts and food, with experimental writing workshops, art exploration, an open-mic night, and more.

Friday the 13th — a time for scary stories, slasher films and a chill that seems to creep around the dark. 

But not all shadows carry a sinister note, in fact, the Ackland Art Museum embraced them at their second annual Acktoberfest last Friday.

Acktoberfest is a spooky take on the usual art walks the Ackland hosts on the second Friday of each month. Luckily — or unluckily — enough, this month's event happened to take place on Oct. 13.

With the art walk landing on such an infamous date, Ackland Event Coordinator Elise Crawford and Head of Public Programs Alison Portnow Lathrop used a spooky theme to fit the atmosphere of the night. During these art walks, guests are encouraged to participate in workshops and explore the exhibits.

For attendees Cathy Chapman and Jacqueline Torain, visiting museums and art galleries are some of their favorite pastimes.

“We were raised to appreciate the arts,” Torain said.

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Chapel Hill students and residents gather for Ackland Art Museum's second annual Acktoberfest on Friday, Oct. 13, 2023. Acktoberfest is an event celebrating arts and food, with experimental writing workshops, art exploration, and more.

Museums, like the Ackland, are places that help distill sense and meaning, UNC English and Comparative Literature Visiting Writer Kendra Greene said.

“Museums always had their door open,” Greene said. “There was always a place where something interesting was happening and where I was welcome.”

During the event, Greene fostered this sense of inclusivity by leading a workshop on shadow poetry, which involves blacking out or highlighting certain words in a preexisting passage. 

Inspired by the works of Kisha Lewellyn Schlegel, participants used museum labels from past exhibitions to create poems using this poetry form.

“So I've never done this workshop, this blackout thing,” attendee Dominique Jamarc said. “I really liked that, that's super cool, where you could just like blackout the words and make your own poem.”

Portnow Lathrop and Crawford have been working with Greene for the past few months in order to connect the museum’s special collections with her current work on invisibility and dangerous art.

They narrowed their list of possible activities for this event to find one that could accommodate as many people as possible. In the end, they used shadow poetry as a way for community members to play with themes of invisibility and things that are lost and found. 

“So, it seemed like there were a lot of ways that we could approach the things that you do and don't see in a museum, the way language works in the museum,” Greene said. “And to remind people that being in a museum is itself a creative act.”

The poems attendees created were later presented at an open mic, where community members and faculty at the Ackland could share their shadow poetry or other poems that encapsulated the spooky ambiance.

For Crawford, one of the event's highlights was the open mic.

“You know, we had some work-study students that kind of kicked it off to help encourage people to join in, and it was fun listening to them,” Crawford said. “And also hearing them, or everyone, discuss what they could talk about in advance or what they could present in advance, that was fun to hear those ideas and those conversations.”

As the spotlight on the presenters cast playful shadows on the magenta-framed arch at the event’s open mic, attendees couldn’t help but feel the spirit of Halloween.

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Kendra Greene, visiting writer of English and conflict, speaks at the second annual Acktoberfest at Ackland Art Museum on Friday, Oct. 13, 2023. "Museums always had their doors open, there was always a place [where] something interesting was happening and where I was welcome," Greene said when describing her experiences with museums. "So I want more and more people to feel like museums are theirs."

Jamarc said he enjoyed how the event helped people open up and get the courage to share their art.

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“I'm glad that I got to hear people speak and, you know, sharing their stuff, ” Jamarc said. “It's like, nostalgic and cool.”

Students and community members interested in participating in art walks like Acktoberfest should visit the Ackland's website.

“I want more and more people to feel like museums are theirs,” Greene said. “And to think about all the ways they might use them.”

@dthlifestyle | lifestyle@dailytarheel.com