Fran Hurcomb | Special to the News
For a full week, tiny Keno City, at the end of the 110-km long Silver Trail Highway, hosted over a dozen of the Yukon’s most talented artists. The third annual Keno City Music and Art Workshop, which ran from June 18 to 25, is the brainchild of well known singer-songwriter Kim Beggs and is hosted by the Keno City Community Club.
This year for the first time, literary artists were included in the schedule along with musicians and visual artists. Beggs considers Keno City to be a perfect location.
“It’s both accessible and remote,” she said. “The town itself is welcoming and open to what we as artists want to do.”
Eleven professional artists-in-residence created and shared new works, facilitated workshops and provided one-on-one consultations with participants. Workshops varied from songwriting to acrylic painting, paper making, haiku and poetry writing and also included the Keno City Choir, which performed two songs at both of the local bars on Saturday night.
Former Yukoner Rohan Quinby travelled from Montreal to be a literary artist-in-residence. “I worked on a lot of poetry and even wrote a song after taking a song writing workshop with Claire Ness. I kept waiting for the retreat part of the week to kick in, but there was no retreat — it was full on all the time. What a week.”
There were three workshops per day at various venues around town. Jackie Irving of Faro gave her painting workshops in the old Anglican church, which is now a library. Singer-songwriter Driftwood Holly of Dawson City moved his class on stage presence between the hotel, museum and the snack bar to analyze the effects these venues had on presentation and audience reception. Helen O’Conner made paper on the main street outside festival headquarters. Maya Rosenburg started a large three-square-metre mural in the parking area next to the Sourdough Roadhouse where artists and visitors alike worked on the piece all week.
Literary workshops led by Peter Jickling, Lulu Keating and Rohan Quinby ranged from poetry writing and creating haiku to a discussion of editing and publishing. For Keating, from Dawson City, the week provided limitless possibilities and opportunities. “I’ve met so many inspiring people — artists at the top of their game,” she said. “I really like the spirit of this festival — there is a lot of respect and tolerance from everyone.”
Evenings were reserved for open mics, where music and spoken word were celebrated by all, both at campfires and in the bars.
Vuntut Gwitchin elder Stanley Njootli of Old Crow and his grandson Dean were on a road trip from Dawson to Whitehorse when they heard about the festival on the radio, “so we turned left at Stewart Crossing and here we are,” Dean said, laughing.
“We’re enjoying everything,” said Stanley. “I even got up on stage and sang. This is quite an undertaking and I think Kim has done a great job organizing.”
Stanley also summed up the week in one short sentence: “This festival is bringing out the best in people.”
Plans for next year’s festival are already underway.
Fran Hurcomb is a Yellowknife, N.W.T. based photographer and writer.