Sparking inspiration for change

A community art performance in City Park gives attendees the opportunity to reflect, commemorate and support those who have died and those who are living with HIV/AIDS

Through a directed choreography, The Lighting the Way Lantern Festival uses movement and light to connect friends and strangers alike in a human chain
Through a directed choreography, The Lighting the Way Lantern Festival uses movement and light to connect friends and strangers alike in a human chain

Stop to reflect, ignite to commemorate and connect in support. By giving only a few minutes of your time to this year’s AIDS Walk and Lighting the Way Lantern Festival tomorrow evening, you’ll have the opportunity to align with local artists and support those who have died and those who are currently living with HIV/AIDS.

Along with the involvement of three community groups creating light installations around the theme of “spark” this Saturday in City Park, a number of professional artists will be creating works during the night between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. This year, the theme represents the light that starts the fire and the ability for one person’s actions to ignite a movement for change.

It’s not everyday one is invited to be a part of such a large-scale, interactive live artwork at sunset, let alone one for such an important and worthy cause. One of the organizers Julie Fiala explained how through a directed choreography, the community performance will set out to use movement and light to connect both friends and strangers in a human chain.

“There was a call for artists from HIV/AIDS Regional Services (HARS) to be involved in the Lantern Festival,” she said. “Kate Yüksel and I decided we wanted to create an aesthetic experience that would allow people to come together on a large scale to reflect on the condition and represent a sense of support for those living and those who have died of HIV/AIDS.”

Though the performance itself is an interactive art piece entitled, STOP IGNITE CONNECT, which will invite participants to perform a simple arm gesture to help move a beam of light in a circle formation. Despite the grand nature of the piece, HARS Community Art Facilitator, Anna Elmberg Wright, told me not all involved would necessarily be artists.

“They’re not artists and they’ve never exhibited art in a public setting, which is what City Park will be,” she said. “Many of them are living with personal challenges as well as social challenges coming from the larger culture with respect to how they identify themselves, but also in respect to what their personal or health issues might be, especially in relation to HIV/AIDS.”

Wright said separating into three community groups allowed the project to become more personalized. One group was an LGBTQ youth group, one was a women’s group with two demographics: women from the Cataraqui Native Friendship Centre and women who were pulled together from various places in the city. The third group was a PHA group (People Having AIDS).

“Most of the participants were not under threat of HIV/AIDS except for the PHA group and they spoke to the issue of HIV/AIDS in quite a diverse array,” she said. “Most of the participants have a lot of sensitivity around the importance of understanding, reducing stigma and improving pro-activity around the issue. Some were focused on esteem building, some were focused on human strength and resilience and some were focused on international issues surrounding HIV/AIDS.”

Personalizing the issue and ensuring people put the disease in perspective is crucial. Fiala told me reaching students on a personal level was one of the goals of this year’s festival.

“We really want to get students out, in a way it would allow them to connect with communities they wouldn’t necessarily usually interact with,” she said. “The Lantern Festival follows the AIDS Walk For Life. It’s an opportunity to bring students together to have an active role in community life.”

A local member of HARS and a person living with HIV/AIDS, Daz, also saw the importance of bringing students out to the event.

“In the case of students, going to university is a time when they’re leaving their high schools and leaving their families and staying with other friends, it’s a place where they may drink and party a little harder than they ever did,” he said. “If precautions aren’t taken, you don’t want to wake up a year later and find out you’re not well anymore.”

Daz said taking a couple minutes to properly educate yourself can help you dodge a bullet.

“In my case, it changed my life. The idea of people’s awareness, especially the students who are going to carry what they learn into the future is important,” he said. “The understanding to educate how it affects people’s lives and to be a little more tolerant of situations, for example, if you meet a person who has HIV, they have much more of a chance of catching something from you than you are from them … you have to take two minutes out of your lifetime just to learn a little more about it. It doesn’t take much to learn the small details that will help you along.”

Becoming self-aware was a common talking point for Fiala, Wright and Daz as it is perhaps one of the best things that can be done in the fight against HIV/AIDS due to the vast number of people affected.

“Everybody knows somebody, somewhere [with HIV/AIDS].” Daz said. “It’s a very worthwhile subject to study and to be properly informed and not to be panicky.”

Wright had a similar sentiment when describing a piece involving silhouettes of local people representing the face of HIV/AIDS.

“You can’t spot it in a crowd and you can’t really spot the symptoms,” she said. “HIV could be any face, anywhere, anytime. This project is bringing the issue to our doorstep … it’s been a very moving experience for me.

“It’s really great to have a voice put out by people who typically wouldn’t be invited to participate in this kind of opportunity outside of the white cube of art galleries that are more traditional or orthodox spaces,” Wright said.

Daz said he was surprised by the direction his involvement in the piece took.

“To tell you the truth, I’m not much of an activist, I’m a complete pacifist,” he said with a laugh. “They asked for some volunteer help with this project and I went from thinking I was just going to help someone, to actually being a part of something.”

Arriving at City Park early on Saturday is advisable. Though the performance begins promptly at 8 p.m., the full duration will be around five minutes long and attendees should aim to arrive at 7:30 p.m.

Fiala said organizers have hopes of attracting 250 people to participate in their action of solidarity. A fleeting, powerful moment of interconnection, hope and mutual awareness will undoubtedly be shared.

Be one of 250 people who will come together to create a circle of moving light around City Park tomorrow, Sept. 18, at 7:30 p.m.

Performance starts at 8 p.m. sharp and lasts only five minutes. Light sources will be provided.

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