Third Thursday: Art & Lit with Paper Darts

At Paper Darts‘s Volume 4 launch party last October, short-story writer Peter Bognanni made a comment prior to his reading. He said something like, “A few years ago, this literary community was in need of a serious kick in the ass. Paper Darts has been that kick in the ass, and they deserve a lot of credit for what they’ve done to rejuvenate this scene.” This statement marked a change in the way I perceived Paper Darts. I moved to the Twin Cities shortly after the release of Paper Darts’s previous print edition, almost two years ago now. They were firmly established as trend-setting entrepreneurs, skilled in social media and graphic design, with a stylish eye that no one in the community (or anywhere, frankly) could parallel. Bognanni’s statement reminded me that I had never experienced this city, or this community, without their influence. No Hungry Mind for me, none of the bygone glories. I don’t know what it used to be like, so I can’t assess how much of the awesomeness of the Twin Cities literary scene derives directly from their efforts. If Bognanni is correct, it’s a great amount; and if that’s the case–as it undoubtedly is, I’m grateful.

How can a group of young editors (primarily co-founders Meghan Murphy and Jamie Millard) have such a profound effect on a community, especially one so committed to its print traditions? Over a short span and with the help of additional staff (Courtney Algeo, Holly Harrison, and many other behind-the-scenes contributors), Paper Darts has shown not only the editorial acumen to build and grow a legitimate online and print magazine of literature and art, but the creativity, courage, and ambition to expand their brand into multiple realms of the local arts and culture scene. From its adventurous, performance-based launch parties to its social-hour-esque reading events, Paper Darts brings ingenuity and verve to seemingly every project it takes on.

This is an awesome museum.

This is an awesome museum.

Take, for instance, Third Thursday: Art & Lit with Paper Darts, which took place on January 17, 2013.  Third Thursday is an ongoing program run by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, where the enormous, amazing art museum provides free admission and various themes to attract audiences.  The decision to team up with Paper Darts seemed like an odd pairing at first, but it created some wide-open potential, something with which Paper Darts works well. Early publicity suggested literary-themed activities like writing prompts and art-specific stories. How exactly these activities would be incorporated into to the vast museum space was anyone’s guess.

On the night of the event, streams of young, fashionable folk flooded the entrance. People waited in line for an event about which nobody had a clear idea, other than the fact that it would be stylish, fun, and much-talked-about. Suffice it to say that this event was planned and executed about as perfectly as any event could be. Not only were the activities stunningly creative and entertaining, they were also gorgeously produced with Paper Darts’s trademark flair for graphic design.

Courtney Algeo lays it down.

Courtney Algeo lays it down.

At the front doors, the Paper Darts editorial staff greeted attendees and explained how the event worked: each attendee chose one of the four packets, each containing the first page of a story by either Ed Bok Lee, John Jodzio, Maggie Ryan Sanford, or Katie Heaney. Printed on a postcard with a clean and classic font, you read the first part of your story and then followed the instructions to find the next card, located somewhere in the museum. Each packet came with a map specific to that story, so you could find your way around the building. I chose Kate Heaney’s story “The Ts,” read my card, and was off.

postcard-sized cover art for my CYOA story

postcard-sized cover art for my CYOA story

My second card offered a plot choice: if my character acted this way, I had to go to one side of the museum to find out what happened next. If she acted another, I was sent to a completely separate wing. I was choosing my own adventure while also embarking into the far corners of the museum, able to observe world-class paintings and sculptures as I went. Plus, I got to collect a limited edition, multi-card version of a pretty nice short story!

"That's quite an exquisite corpse you've got there."

“That’s quite an exquisite corpse you’ve got there.”

Similarly clever ideas included the exquisite corpse–a collaborative work of art, rather than a writing exercise, wherein participants drew on a segment of material and then passed it down for another person to continue the work. The ultimate product was collaged on the wall in the shape of what looked like a dainty leprechaun . . . .  Throw in live music, cool purple lights, buzzing atmosphere, and a bar, and you have some of the best people-watching the Twin Cities has to offer. If you’re ever wondering what this whole “cool” thing everybody’s talking about is, head down to a Paper Darts event. It’s on full display.

Also on full display, and the quiet star of the show, was the amazing art collection at the Institute. It is a museum far too rich to be enjoyed in a single visit. I left knowing it was okay to feel like I hadn’t gotten around to viewing everything. I will return, and hopefully, so will many of the people who partook in the brilliant collaboration with Paper Darts. As for it being an odd pairing, it turned out not to be a stretch at all, and I’m happy to give the MIA staff credit for reaching out to the literary world–maybe some day soon I’ll finally make it to one of their book tours, which has always sounded like a great way to spend a couple of hours.

Any community with the Loft Literary Center, three astounding indie presses, and multiple graduate programs fostering creative writing is going to have a strong, vibrant literary community. I can’t give Paper Darts all the credit, but I’ll give them credit for this: they do what they do with astounding skill, and “what they do” is continually expanding. They are an asset and an ally to anyone in the Twin Cities who cares about art and literature. And boy, can they throw a party.


[Author’s Note, 1-26-13: I revised a phrase in this piece from the original posting. Formerly, the sentence in question characterized the Twin Cities as “staunchly set in its prim-and-print traditions.” This  is a poor characterization, and it  suggests the Twin Cities’ attitude toward its print traditions is somehow misplaced. I’ve revised the piece to more accurately describe my opinion: that without our print tradition, there would be no literary community.]

Were you There? Have something to add, or a different take on this event?  Chime in on the comments below, or send us an email at! Be sure to check the schedule to the right and the Twin Cities Literary Calendar to be at the next attended event. See you around!


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