Kensington Winter Solstice Festival

History of The Kensington Winter Solstice Festival

Ida Carnivali

Ida Carnivali, Founder and director of the original Festival Of Lights parade in Kensington Market (now known as the Kensington Market Winter Solstice). Ida Carnevali was also the Artistic Director of Kensington Carnival Arts Society.

The Kensington Market Winter Solstice was started in 1988 and initially named the Kensington Market “Festival Lights “.  Its history is one that attests to the community’s cultivation of their own cultural celebrations and recognition of the vital significance festival activity.

The Festival of Lights was started by Artistic Director, Ida Carnivali, of Kensington Carnival Arts Society.  Based in Kensington Market, Ida’s artistic origins are influenced by the Commedia Dell Arte, clown, street performance and large-scale community-based and professional theatrical productions in Kensington and various outdoor environments.
She produced and directed many plays, working with established and emerging artists that shared in practices stemming from communal storytelling and mythology, reflecting issues of cultural origins and refuge. She was part of the groundswell of agitation propaganda or “Agitprop” street performance rising from artistic, grassroots organizing agency of the time, helping to harken the urgency of anti-war and civil rights activism.  She also engendered conventions of circus and clown that has ancient roots and the subversive power of masking performance.
With reference to why she started the Festival of Lights, she spoke of imagining the winter’s cold and darkness, and considered how her neighbours would observe the season. She was also intrigued by ancestral reckoning of the return to warmth and light.  The winter solstice is an ancient cardinal point recognized and observed over time immemorial and is still deeply culturally significant to us currently and universally.
Gabriella Caruso began her work with the Kensington Carnival in 1987, designing and performing in mask and making puppets and continued into apprenticeship for parades and festival performance.  Red Pepper Spectacle Arts’ founding was due, in large part, to the Festival of Lights, and Ida passing the torch on to them.  This annual event has been the heart, from which Red Pepper derives strength and artistic collaborative companionship.  Some of the larger movements of collective desire, that we are part of/witnessing, that draw the public to this event is the wish to reconnect with values of respect, shared kinship, community support and generosity – the alternatives to a highly commercialized agenda and exploitive system of consumption at this season.
The Winter Solstice has been growing as part of transitional living that honours the hand made and commercial-free.  The Kensington Market Winter Solstice’s activity will continue to foster community arts engagement opportunities to further the cause for access to the arts, resources and skills sharing, informed by the ethic of communal artistic creation and ceremony.

Video from Kensington Winter Solstice Festival 2009