Equinox Vigil opens respectful space for remembrance and conversation

September 22 is the autumnal equinox that day with equal shares of light and darkness and the first official day of fall. And now for the second time in Calgary it’s also a date where you can go to Union Cemetery to be part of the Equinox Vigil and remember deceased loved ones or simply take some time to think and talk about mortality.

Artist and activist Sharon Stevens inaugurated the event last year and explains that “this is not an art exhibition in a cemetery….”

“Artists I believe can lead the public in ways of beauty to help with mourning and grief and sadness and joy and celebration of life” she says. “…People are yearning for this they’re seeking a way to gather as a community to mourn in a non-religious public way.”

Stevens says she learned from the 200-plus attendees last year that people love the experience of being in a gentle area. “It’s not sombre it’s not dour but it’s respectful and it’s tender” she says. When climbing up the hill past the Union Cemetery’s main entrance visitors will pass a digital shrine displaying memorial messages submitted in advance or over the course of the night and a video by media artist Kenny Doren who passed away himself at this time last year. At the top of the hill you can create and display your own memorial to a loved one or stop in for a cup of tea (feel free to bring your own teacup).

You’ll find a mandala by Sarah Kerr and Jenna Swift creating garlands from a range of surprising objects as well as fibre ravens inhabiting a tree in an installation by Rosemary Brown. You can follow Bogdan Cheta up some “stairs to nowhere” and look up at the evening sky; or enter a willow enclosure made by Michelena Bamford. Calgary poet laureate Kris Demeanor will give two performances at the poet’s bench and historian laureate Harry Sanders will be available to share his wealth of knowledge of the cemetery. Twice during the night at 7:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. a procession will wend its way down the hill led by the newly formed Union Choir.

Stevens hopes this will become a yearly event; a Calgary ritual if you will. “I know people are a little bit worried about that word; what I’m creating up is a ritual but it’s a ritual that people are bringing their own traditions to” she adds.

Even at year two of what she hopes will be a long line of vigils Stevens is pleased to see that it’s already being taken up by the community: “What’s important to me is just because I’ve initiated this event that I’m not the owner of it. I might host it I might produce it but other people need to learn about it and own it.”

Part of that refers to the artists involved who will curate and mentor next year’s artists but it also refers to the public who attend the event: because it’s the content of our memories and tender feelings that will truly make this event special.