With its vibrant art scene, Ithaca has long been a local hub of culture and innovation. Now, scattered Ithaca creators will have a home.
That’s the goal of Story House Ithaca, a new organization in its early stages, aimed at bringing together Ithaca’s creative minds in one shared space.
The idea is the brainchild of Jonathan Miller, a journalist who is currently board chair at the Ithaca City of Asylum, a local organization that works with refugee writers and artists who are fleeing persecution in their home countries. During a visit to the Netherlands a few years ago, Miller stumbled into a community arts and cultural center called Story House in the heart of Rotterdam in the Netherlands.
“I was so thrilled by this idea of a place where people can come in from the neighborhood, people from all over the city could come in and feel comfortable going to special events,” Miller said. “It was informal and it was organized around the idea of sharing stories.”
Having noticed a lack of a similar communal space back home, Miller said he was inspired to bring this idea to Ithaca. Miller began to talk to as many people as he could about his idea. Lesley Greene ’98, now one of the main organizers of Story House Ithaca, was one of them.
As word spread around the community, more people started reaching out to express interest in contributing to this effort.
“The beautiful thing that happens in the community, and I think especially Ithaca, is sort of a sweet spot where people know each other, but it’s not too small,” Miller said. “It’s just a question mentioning it to people and people saying they were interested, or they knew someone who might be.”
The main organizing team currently consists of a dozen people, ranging from local writers and comedians to musicians to visual artists. Story House Ithaca has co-sponsored a few virtual events with other Ithaca nonprofits, including a video for Village of Ithaca to celebrate International Women’s Day and a reading series with Ithaca City of Asylum.
Their upcoming event, “Pandemic Dreams, an April Fools’ Fantasy,” is Story House Ithaca’s first solo program. They are asking members of the Ithaca community to submit two-minute videos imagining what life will be like after the pandemic. After the submission deadlines, they will string the videos together to create a community compilation, which they plan to stream on their YouTube channel on April 1.
Looking forward, Greene describes a three-step plan for how the organization plans to grow, even as Story House Ithaca flowers in a virtual world.
“First, our events are all virtual. And then a pop-up phase where we do events in all kinds of different spaces around town. And then our own space,” Greene said. “And who knows, maybe even after we have our own space, we are still popping up here and there.”
Though the physical space may seem like a far-off goal for now, Greene and Miller said they are excited to continue programming until in-person activities are possible. Until then, they hope to spread the word and increase community awareness about their mission: bringing together the Ithaca community.
“We need a place where everybody feels comfortable,” Miller said. “Where members of the Black community and the LGBT community and the literary people and the artsy theater people all feel like they’ve got kind of a piece of it and feel welcome.”