Halloween may be winding down, but the “spirited” festivities are alive and well in the Village of the Arts, where the 7th annual Festival of Skeletons takes place Friday and Saturday during the Village’s monthly art walk.
Based on the tradition of the coinciding Mexican holiday, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), the Festival of the Skeletons art walk is the Village of the Arts’ largest collaborative effort of the fall season. Artists from the Village work together to erect a shrine in Graciela Park, located at the corner of 12th St. and 11th Ave., that honors the spirit of a famous deceased artist with a collection of offerings (ofrendas).
This year’s honored artist is Mexican Surrealist painter, Frida Kahlo. The Day of the Dead shrines erected in the Village during previous Festivals of Skeletons celebrated the memory of artists such as Elvis and Salvador Dali.
“It’s a very authentic Day of the Dead altar,” said event chairperson, Zoe Von Averkamp. “Like traditional Mexican shrines, it includes mums and marigold flowers, fresh fruit, the deceased’s favorite food and beer, art, photos and memorabilia — in this case, anything Frida Kahlo might have liked.”
In addition to the elaborate altar, the Village erects a memory wall in front of the shrine where visitors can leave commemorative notes, messages and the names of their own deceased loved ones. The wall serves as a community shrine intended to honor the dead. Remembrances of beloved pets, Von Averkamp noted, are welcome and encouraged as well.
Styrofoam “Funky Man Skeletons” recycled from the Funky Man contest hosted by Arts Alive in 2009 find their way into the Festival of Skeletons each year in the form of clever and not-too-spooky representations of other famous deceased artists (as well as their cats and dogs) that decorate the fence surrounding the park. The Village streets will also be decorated with luminaries while street musicians, performers and vendors provided family-friendly entertainment throughout the festival.
As is the tradition of the monthly first Friday art walk in Village of the Arts, the galleries open their doors to the public for extended hours, often hosting with refreshments and live music. During the Festival of Skeletons art walk, the galleries participate even further by creating their own personal Day of the Dead altars to commemorate loved ones and idols.
Additionally, restaurants in the Village of the Arts have designed special Mexican-themed menus to feature throughout the weekend in honor of the Mexican holiday.
Von Averkamp said that last year’s Festival of Skeletons drew a record 1,500 visitors, and that this year’s event is expected to be bigger than ever, due in part to the addition of a Frida Kahlo look-alike contest.
Open to all ages and genders, the contest will determine who has the best coiffed unibrow and the most Frida flair. Dressed in their own award winning “painted skeletons” costumes, Slade Nash (representing Art Center Manatee) and his wife, Amara (representing the Florida Maritime Museum in the Cortez Fishing Village), will judge the contestants’ costumes at 8 p.m. on Friday in front of Divine Excess Folk Art, located at the corner of 12th St. and 12th Ave.
The first place prize in the contest is an oil portrait of Frida Kahlo painted by Village artist, Alfredo Garcia, and the second place prize is a coffee table edition of the feature film, Frida, including the full script and photos from the filming.
The Festival of Skeletons is a family-friendly event that is free to the public. It takes place from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and continues from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
“It’s going to be a real blast,” Averkamp said. “Anything you would expect to experience at an authentic Day of the Dead festival in Mexico, you’ll be able to get right here in Bradenton’s very own Village of the Arts.”