messy-logo-largeI have no problem admitting that when it comes to Messy Magazine , I am certainly biased on their behalf. That said, this bias honestly has nothing to do with the fact they published an article of mine in their Cleveland Film Guide, or that I went to college with one of their founders—although, it doesn’t hurt. Truth is, I totally dig Messy Magazine because, above all else, it is such a damn cool idea.

In essence, the Cleveland-based online magazine is doing for the Northeast Ohio art community what we here at Open Thread are doing for artists in the Pittsburgh and tri-state area: spreading the word.

Since its first issue in November 2008, Messy Magazine has challenged budding and established writers to craft articles on each issue’s predetermined theme, while at the same time finding fresh and unique ways to highlight all sorts of artsy goings-on in the Cleveland area. This devotion to giving exposure to artistic events led to the magazine becoming involved in this year’s Cleveland International Film Festival, for which they produced the aforementioned Cleveland Film Guide to help promote the event, and participated even more directly by sponsoring one of the films screened.

Messy Magazine is headed for big things, and since their mission grooves so well with ours here at OT, it makes sense for us to pay it forward and get the word out about this wonderful publication. I recently had the opportunity to talk to Vanessa Aron, business planner and founding member of Messy Magazine, about the publication’s history, their involvement with the film festival, and what’s in the future for all things Messy.


OT Blog: How did Messy Magazine get its start?

Vanessa Aron: Messy Magazine is a project that has been in planning for quite sometime. It really started with Lauren Kirk and Michael Stidham, who both attended Cleveland State University. They had several writing classes together and really became focused on creating something that would benefit the art community in Cleveland. They were really looking for an outlet for their creative expression. Lauren is a writer, and Michael is an amazing visual artist who also writes amazingly well. I am jealous of their skills!

Lauren and I both interned for the Cleveland Free Times, but during separate summers. We had a mutual acquaintance, and my involvement with the magazine came about simply through run-ins and conversations with her about our current professional states and about how changes could be made in the arts community of Cleveland. There is so much going on here; there are art galleries left and right and a ton of people creating a lot of interesting stuff. It’s a bit uncollected, though, and unless you’re knee-deep into the arts community, it’s easy to miss a lot of the goings-on in the city.

Professionally, both Lauren and I were in interesting situation. I had been laid off and I was looking for something I could focus on and would give me a sense of self-worth. Losing my job was strange because I am someone who really needs to have a packed schedule to get things done, and suddenly I had all this free time, and I was unsure how to fill my days.

The serious planning stages started in February after Lauren and I went out for drinks one evening. I arrived home that night, and I couldn’t sleep because the wheels in my head started turning after this lengthy conversation about Cleveland and art that night. So instead of sleeping, I created a business plan that really became the foundation of the magazine. I emailed it to Lauren the following morning and said, “This is what we’re doing,” and it’s been going ever since. We planned through spring and summer 2008, fine tuning this and that, creating a draft of the design of the magazine, etc.

I brought Genna Petrolla (MM’s marketer) on board with the magazine last July/August. Genna and I both worked at the company I was laid off from, and I knew she’d be perfect for our mission. She is amazingly talented, and our work strengths balance each other very well.

So our first issue came out in November 2008. And people started to take notice and we’ve been going ever since. We just distributed our fourth issue over Memorial Day weekend!

OT: Messy Magazine had some serious involvement in the Cleveland Film Festival this year, putting out not only the Film Guide, but you sponsored one of the films that was screened there. How did this partnership come about?

film-guideVA: The film festival was a f*cking blast, and it was so great being a part of all the excitement. This was the biggest year ever for the Cleveland International Film Festival. They broke attendance records on each day of the festival.

We were contacted by the Cleveland Film Society, the folks who put on the CIFF, sometime in late December, early January after they had checked out the first issue of our magazine. They thought we had a great positive outlook on the city and the arts community in Cleveland. From what I hear, there was a buzz around our magazine after our first issue, which was very cool.

We were excited when they contacted us. It was a huge deal for us only after putting out one issue. Our second issue came out the second week of January, a few days after our initial meeting with the CFS people. We decided to further our involvement with the CIFF by creating our own film guide. We shadowed the CFS crew, interviewed them, hung out in their office for a day, it was a lot of fun and they’re a great, tight group of people. Genna told me when I walked into their office I’d never want to leave, and she was so right.

The film guide was primarily, but not completely, devoted to the CIFF. We incorporated articles about the film community in and around Cleveland. The film community is HUGE here, but it’s not super known. We have the Cleveland Film Society, the Cleveland Film Commission, Cinematheque at Case Western Reserve University, the Cedar Lee Cult Film Series, Cinema Wasteland, the film school at Cleveland State University…it’s huge!

We were also fortunate to sponsor a film at the CIFF, An Alternative to Slitting Your Wrists. This was probably the perfect film for us to sponsor, as the documentary, as well as our magazine, were creations out of crises. Even more, our sponsored film was created by Cleveland natives, something we were very excited about. The film had several sold-out showings, which was great.

OT: Each of your issues seemingly has a theme, dictating the feel of that particular issue’s writings and direction. What are some of the prior themes you’ve had, what are some you hope to have in the future, and how do you and the MM team come up with what you want the focus of each issue to be?

VA: When we created the magazine, we were looking for something that would encompass an entire issue so we wouldn’t be a magazine filled with just random work. As the overseer of the artistic direction, I wanted more of a coffee table book than magazine style look. That’s why we don’t directly promote who is in the issue on the front cover.

I’m a visual person, and I love photos and the use of visual work. I try to incorporate just as many images and photos as written work into each issue. A lot of the photos are my own as well, so I feel like I am also expanding my creative horizons, because I’m always out and about snapping images of random things to incorporate into each issue and the design.

I think overall the theme is our way of holding creative control over the entire operation. We also believe the use of a theme can fuel more creativity and more great work.

The downfall with using a theme is that if it makes no sense, or if people don’t understand it, they either won’t submit something, or they just submit whatever. We will and do accept work from anyone, anywhere, theme-related or not, but we do try to push the use of the theme. We are learning and becoming more aware of how simplistic or complex a theme can be, and really it’s an issue by issue thing.

Our first theme was Mad at Monday. It was a fun first theme to start out with because everyone has something to say about Mondays and the beginning of the work week—or if you don’t have a job, what Mondays mean when you are out of work. We had some pretty humorous submissions, so it was a lot of fun to put together.

Our latest issue, Emerge and See, was to the Messy Magazine group the most important and I suppose the most emotionally invested theme yet. There is a lot going on worldwide, regionally through the rustbelt, and specifically in Cleveland. We are trying to change attitudes that cities like Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Detroit are not dead; they just need to look around and realize what potential they have and change their attitudes. I think we are off to a great start. We see big things coming our way!

OT: On that same token, what would you like to see in the future for MM?

VA: This is the perfect time for that question. We are sort of in what I would call a resetting phase. We are currently in the process of collectively reviewing what the magazine is and what we want it to become. We are on the brink of some really cool changes, which will be for the better. We are in the process of becoming a quarterly magazine. We want to focus our energies toward each theme and issue much more than we can at this point. We really want to fuel the creative world around us and really show everyone that there are amazing full-time, part-time, and seasonal artists in this world that are not showing at the MoMA, the MOCA, or wherever. These people have real jobs and also have a creative side, so we want to better ourselves to better show off what we see. Stay tuned! Summer ‘09 is going to be Messy Magazine’s own Emerge and See.


Many thanks to Messy Magazine and Vanessa for helping us out, and for getting the word out about nearby artists—a cause we can certainly support!

Check out their current issue, as well as back issues, at

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