Community AFLOAT celebrates large-scale collaborative art in Kingston

Emberly Doherty, Education and Community Engagement Coordinator for Calliope, holds a painted flag created by community member and artist Andrea Malus during the creation of Community AFLOAT. The flag is one of hundreds painted by local community members and elementary school students during the pandemic. Photo by Tricia Knowles

Community AFLOAT is a large-scale collaborative art installation at Douglas Fluhrer Park in Kingston and part of an upcoming mega event organized by Calliope Collective. HYDRA: A Story on Water, originally scheduled to sail this spring, will be presented to the public in Kingston over the next two years. The art pieces will be a story in motion and will explore the theme of our personal and collective relationship to water. The Community AFLOAT installation aims to serve as a test version for the project funded by the City of Kingston Arts Fund, the Ontario Arts Council, and Canadian Heritage. It is sponsored by Atkinson Home Hardware Hartington. 

The installation will sail this weekend on Jun. 4 and be stationed in Douglas Fluhrer Park as a temporary public art installation for part of the summer as part of Kingston’s Public Art Walk. 

In December 2020, the collective organized a large-scale collaborative art workshop with Dian Carlo, Clelia Scala, and Krista Dalby. The idea behind the workshop was to allow the community to create something that would contribute to a large-scale installation. It was also held to inspire artists and makers to produce one of the multiple floating art installations in HYDRA. The goal was to have the Community AFLOAT installation become part of the presentation of the water parade, primarily inspired by the Bosch Parade in the Netherlands.

Due to the pandemic, the idea has been rescheduled repeatedly due to changing health and safety protocols. However, the team persevered and adapted to reality. 

“The community installation became a larger project in its own right, and as restrictions tightened, it became clear we wouldn’t be able to present the full installation how we initially envisioned it. Ideas blossomed into a plan, and from there, it grew its legs (fins?), becoming its own beast of an art piece. In a way, it has worked out well, as now we’ve been given another year to test different propulsion and floating methods for exhibiting creations which will be part of HYDRA,” said Tricia Knowles, Artistic Director at Calliope Collective and a local Cultural Producer and Event Organizer. 

Flag installation preparation for AFLOAT. Photo by Tricia Knowles

“I think even before the pandemic, our society was crying out for the opportunity to reconnect with nature. And we’ve certainly witnessed that happening over the past year. It’s what’s healing our hearts. What is filling the void we feel from lack of human connection and what is helping us to connect with ourselves… that connection to the earth.” 

“I find solace from being on the water. Being on it, in it, near it… so many of us turn to water for healing, but we also need to give back, to return that medicine – our waters are sick. By partnering with environmental agencies for the parade development, we are also hoping to use this great art project as a moment for reflection and awareness, and much like previous projects in Kingston (Shoreline Shuffle, ) a cause for change.”

Some of the common themes in developing the event were: the connectedness of the Cataraqui River, which feeds into Lake Ontario, history of boatbuilding in the inner harbour area, and of Indigenous and settler trading, pollution (the inner harbour is former tannery land and former dump nearby), as well as the magic water gives, the medicine it provides and now needs from us, along with water access, and finding solutions through community coming together. 

Port Hope-based artist Dian Carlo and Kingston artist Clelia Scala came up with a design for the main community project for HYDRA without initially knowing whether it would be possible for people to gather to work together. 

“We developed an idea that would allow people to work independently but would allow us to put all of their pieces together to make a unified float. This design struck us as representative of life during the pandemic and the resiliency of our community; however, we are all somewhat isolated, we are all in this together, and we will continue to find ways to create together,” said Scala. 

The floating art installation comprises hundreds of flags painted by community members, including students, community groups, and individuals. People have been asked to think about what the water means to them and express their answer by painting it onto their flag. Students from Central Public School, École Sir John A. Macdonald Public School, and Pathways to Education painted and shared their flags depicting the students’ connections to water. 

“Some images are representational, some are abstract, and they are all in a similar color palette so that when the float sets sail, all the flags will flow together,” said Scala. 

“This was an open-ended invitation to create, giving students the opportunity to explore their relationship to water in whatever context they felt important. The teachers we worked with were incredible, and we received such a beautiful, wide variety of ideas, from water protection and the responsibility of stewardship to mermaids, bubbles, and rainbows. In all of my work with students I try to emphasize that there is no right or wrong, as long as you’re trying. It frees kids up to let their imaginations find really amazing things (which they did!),” said Emberly Doherty, Education and Community Engagement Coordinator for Calliope Collective.

Calliope Collective is a not-for-profit arts collective dedicated to enforcing industry standards of remuneration for artists, creative placemaking, and exploring a fusion of visual and performing art by working collaboratively with artists, performers, and the community. It has organized several annual art events since 2011, including The Longest Night and Midsummer’s Eve.

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