Annual arts festival brings life to Skeleton Park

Dozens of artists join together for display of music, poetry and crafts

Nimkii Osawamick performs with Cris Derksen at Skeleton Park Arts Festival on June 24.
Photo by Maria Sheehan

From June 20 to 24, Skeleton Park was transformed into a creative outlet for dozens of art forms ranging from paintings to poetry, music and handcrafted jewelry. 

With attractions including drag queen storytelling and a porch jazz parade, the annual Skeleton Park Arts Festival showcased both local and national talent.

Musical performances ranged from the funky Soul Motivators, folk singer-songwriter Noah Ross,   and  the Kingston Drum Circle. But a cellist, Cris Derksen, was the highlight of the festival. 

Derksen performed with her striking black cello, using electric looping to build intense melodies and sound. Her  mastery of slow and fast tempos inspired the audience to both dance and sit quietly.

The performance equally benefitted from a captivating Anishinaabe Hoop Dancer Nimkii Osawamick and drummer Jesse Baird. 

Inspired by her home, the North Tall Cree Reserve in northern Alberta, Derksen’s music shifted between the strength of her own voice and the power of her cello,  joining together and building to a commanding volume, with support from Baird.

Famous for incorporating her Indigenous ancestry into her music, Derksen also demonstrated how she can use her cello to make her music evoke the North. 

“It can be the wind, it can be ice, it can be whales, it can be seals,” she told the audience as she created each sound, which she later weaved into a somber instrumental.

Hoop dancer Osawamick, using up to twelve hoops at once, created images ranging from giant wings to a human cage. 

His mesmerizing dance and bright red clothing added an energy to the overall performance in a unique combination of visual and musical art.  

Meanwhile, tucked away in Hillside Park, Novel Idea and Kingston’s Writersfest hosted a poetry reading on Saturday, featuring Juno nominated Dave Bidini, Governor General award winning Steven Heighton, local poet Alyssa Cooper and up and coming poet LJ Weisberg. 

Dave Bidini, who also performed in Skeleton Park with his band the Rheostatics, treated the audience to a first ever public reading from his upcoming poetry collection, Midnight Light, which is set to be released in October. 

Bidini’s amusing piece narrated his experience with a dodgy Australian pilot in Yellowknife, whose cavalier attitude about flying through unfamiliar territory set the scene for a funny exchange between passengers on the plane. Bidini’s sarcastic humour, along with highly descriptive language, created an engaging performance that had the audience laughing. 

While Steven Heighton’s poem about Donald Trump was both powerful and amusing, young poet LJ Weisberg’s “Missing Certainty,” was particularly haunting. With lines like, “Everything is familiar, and it’s loathsome,” the piece describes the darkness artists feel when they can’t create. 

With its focus on engaging Kingston’s youth and supporting Indigenous artists, this year’s Skeleton Park Arts Festival was far removed from the darkness of Weisberg’s poetry, instead representing both the promises and value of creativity. 

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