Skeleton Park Arts Fest adapts to COVID-19 with ‘Next Door’ exhibit

Local artists inspired by pandemic restrictions

A decorated house.

Rather than let the pandemic overwhelm them, the artists of Skeleton Park let COVID-19 inform their work in this year’s “Next Door” exhibit. 

Typically, the Skeleton Park Arts Festival (SPAF) takes place on the weekend of the summer solstice every year, but to maintain safe distancing rules, the pieces of “Next Door” will be on display around the Skeleton Park neighbourhood from June 17 until Aug. 17. 

SPAF collaborated with Union Gallery, a student-run group at Queen’s, for the first time to create the “Next Door” project, which aims to celebrate community artists during a time of physical separation. 

The Journal spoke with Greg Tilson, a representative from SPAF, and Carina Magazzeni, the director of Union Gallery, about how the project came together.  

They that explained the exhibit features a series of original art works created by local artists who reside in the Skeleton Park area, who integrated the pieces into the architecture of their homes— on their porches, front doors, and windows. 

The name “Next Door” was given to the project with the intention of focusing on local artists—our next door neighbours—who’ve taken extensive efforts to adapt to the public health changes. Each piece was a personal reflection of what was on the artists’ minds during these times.

“Certainly, in the early stages of this project, the pandemic was the motivator,” Tilson told The Journal. “It was certainly an initial lens the artists were considering when they started to create their work.”  

The two collaborators said they viewed COVID-19 limitations as an opportunity to explore public art exhibitions. They said the hope was to allow people to keep a safe distance while exploring the art at their own pace.

“The exhibition was very much something that could have only been produced during this time, as it was very much responding to the fact that we are all adapting to recent changes, which includes coping with a lack of communal gatherings, spending more time at home, and artists not having access to studios that they normally rely on,” Magazzeni said.

Many of the works went beyond the theme of COVID-19 to address other elements of the Kingston cultural moment, including pieces that comment on the recent Skeleton Park Black Lives Matter Vigil and gentrification in Kingston.  

Read more: Hundreds gather for Black Lives Matter vigil in Skeleton Park.

Tilson said that, due to the extensive collaboration of the artists, they were still able to put on “what seems to be a really well received exhibition” in spite of the limited time and resources.

Magazzeni was enthusiastic about the instrumental work of Union Gallery members, including Elise Ngo, Dominique Holmes, Maggie Whitmore, Nicole Daniels, Rebecca van Gennip, and SPAF Assistant Director, Neil Bettney, whose extensive work was imperative during the creation and execution of the project.

Both Tilson and Magazzeni commented on how it was an exceptional experience for the two organizations to collaborate, as their specialized talents and experiences complemented each other nicely.  

“I learned a ton and so did the volunteers and organization in general,” Tilson said. “I have got to say that’s one of the things that’s shining brightly during these times, the collaborative efforts of people.”

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