Day of the Dead brings new life to death

Brittany Moseley

Vince Packard’s “The-four-carousel-horsemen-of-the-apocalypse” will be on display for the Dias de los Muertos Festival for the next three weeks. Photo courtesy of Gavin Jackson | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: Ron Soltys

Jeff Ingram isn’t one to view death with a morose face. Instead, he would rather celebrate.

“A lot of different cultures celebrate death, as opposed to Americans who try to hide from it,” said Ingram, executive director for Standing Rock Cultural Arts.

Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a Hispanic holiday that started in the 15th century around the time the Spaniards arrived in Mexico. The festival takes place Nov. 1 and second. Nov. 1 is the day to remember children who have died, and Nov. 2 is the traditional Dia de los Muertos. The purpose of both days is to reunite people with their deceased loved ones.

The idea for the Standing Rock festival started with Ingram and Vince Packard, a local artist. They have known each other for 26 years, and they both had an interest in Hispanic culture. Ingram said he and Packard agreed this would be a good annual event because it’s an ancient tradition that’s new to many Americans.

“We try to explain that there are other holidays around this time of year,” Ingram said.

Trying to promote a festival that embraces death isn’t easy, and Ingram said for the first festival, most people thought it had to do with Halloween.

“People didn’t know what to think of it,” Ingram said. “I think we have a long way to go before people understand the Hispanic concept of death. We’re a youth-oriented culture, and death doesn’t really fit into that.”

With the majority of people in costume and the festival’s theme, Packard said Dia de los Muertos does have a Halloween feel to it, which is one reason he was attracted to it.

“Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. It has that carnival feel about it,” Packard said. “I’ve kind of realized that adults aren’t going to give up Halloween.”

The festival itself is just for one night, but the artwork will be on display for three weeks at Standing Rock. Eight artists, including Packard, submitted artwork to the exhibit.

Dia de los Muertos always features an altar to display memorabilia to commemorate those who have passed, and this year Jessica Fleming, one of the featured artists, is making the altar. The exhibit will also feature paintings, sculptures and large-scale puppets. There will be food, drinks and music provided by classical guitarist Tim Koehler on Saturday.

Some of the artwork will be for sale, but Packard worries every year that people won’t buy it because of its serious content matter.

“I always worry about selling the art because who wants to hang it in their living room year round?” Packard asked. “I guess there are enough weirdoes out there because it always sells.”

But Dia de los Muertos leaves Packard and Ingram with several unanswered questions. Will people like the festival? Will they understand it? Will they buy the artwork? Still, there is one thing Ingram can promise.

“We’re going to have as many cookies as we can make,” Ingram said, and a few seconds later he added, “In the shape of skulls.”

Contact all reporter Brittany Moseley at [email protected].