Culture in Kingston: Arts and Film Festivals, San Severia Belgian Eatery and Spiegeltent-Style Arts Space

Arts and culture in the old capital: An uptick in festivals and other artsy events draws fans to Kingston

Is it possible to have a crush on a city? After a two-year stint in which I moved to a new Valley town every few months, it seems that I have finally put down roots in Kingston. Admittedly, I was first drawn by rumors that the riverside city was undergoing a cultural renaissance. Recent years have seen the opening of new music venues, eateries, and galleries in its three distinct neighborhoods: uptown (the thriving business district on and around Wall Street), the Broadway midtown district, and the downtown Rondout area (also called the Strand). Music and art festivals and other community events have recently sprouted, prompting the New York Times to dub uptown as an “upstate Brooklyn” — musically, artistically, and ethnically diverse.

Wherever you live, when you’ve been in a place long enough, you start to see its sheen wear off. But — like an antique whose charm is in its tarnish — Kingston still feels new and fresh to me. I love the fact that I can take a community art or dance class downtown at the Arts Society of Kingston (ASK), head to midtown to browse through a craft fair at Cornell Street Studios, then go uptown and — after a delish dinner at the New American hot spot, Duo Bistro — catch an indie rock show at BSP Lounge. The city’s growing number of festivals is also a big plus, from the 1913 New Year’s Eve celebration (which actually rang in 2013, but the retro 1913 theme included burlesque performances, silent films, and vaudeville acts) to the O+ Festival (pronounced oh-positive) — an autumn health, art, and music fest at which artists and musicians barter for services with health-care providers.

On tap this month: two more fun fests.

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Kerry Henderson — a New Zealand native who moved to the Valley 13 years ago — and business partner Gloria Waslyn have organized the Kingston Arts Festival on August 24 as a way to unite the city’s diverse communities through the arts. “Kingston has a great deal to offer, but many people still don’t know it,” he says.

As a classically trained opera singer and founder of this month’s Phoenicia Festival of the Voice (see page 68), Henderson is no stranger to organizing arts events. “This year, we’re just putting our feet in the water and developing the model,” he says. He hopes to make the 2014 event an 11-day affair. But this year, festivalgoers can expect a full day of events and exhibits. The Dutch Reformed Church will echo with chamber music, and the spiegeltent San Severia (see below) hosts music and theater — be sure to catch Bon Appetit!, a comic opera about Julia Child baking a cake. Children’s events and performances take place at Forsyth Park, where a group of tents will be transformed into galleries, theater spaces, and more. The waterfront features a performance by the Rivertown Kids (a Beacon-based group spearheaded by Pete Seeger) and other ensembles during the “Voices for Water” concert, and a variety of art installations are scheduled to pop up throughout the city. “This isn’t a traditional festival — it’s not just lots of things happening in different places,” Henderson insists. “It’s a new-century festival, aimed at igniting the artist in all of us.” For more information and updates, visit or

Recent years have seen the opening of new music venues, eateries, and galleries in Kingston… Music and art festivals and other community events have recently sprouted, prompting the New York Times to dub uptown as an “upstate Brooklyn” — musically, artistically, and ethnically diverse

The second annual Kingston Film Festival runs during the first week of August at the BSP Lounge and presents 10 feature and 20 short films. “We received roughly 200 submissions,” says Trevor Dunworth, who cofounded the fest with business partner Astrid Cybele. “It was difficult to sift through so many selections, but we’re excited to bring audiences and filmmakers back to Kingston.” He notes that this year they are adding music documentaries to the lineup of full-length films, animations, trailers, and shorts.

Awards will be given out for best feature, documentary, short, musical score, foreign film, animation, and music video. The Kingston-centric Red Goat Award — appropriate for a festival whose slogan is “stubbornly independent” — will be presented to a flick either filmed or set in Kingston, or to a resident filmmaker. Look for local landmarks in Brass Teapot (screening Aug. 3 at 3 p.m.), which takes place in and around the city. The fest also includes musical acts and other related performances; for example, a showing of the documentary Greetings From Tim Buckley (3 p.m. at Aug. 9) follows a live performance by Buckley’s guitarist, Gary Lucas. Aside from popular musicians like Lucas, the festival is bound to attract a few familiar faces — be sure to keep your eyes peeled (

Pitch a Tent

“The reaction has just been phenomenal,” says Josie Airhart about the spiegeltent-style structure that popped up a couple of months ago in a “sad lot” near the Ulster Performing Arts Center in midtown Kingston. “Everbody is so glad we’re here.” That said, Airhart, whose husband Bob now runs a company that manages spiegeltents around the world, admits that her tent is sometimes confused with the more famous Spiegeltent that has long been at the center of Bard College’s SummerScape arts festival. (Made in Belgium from wood, mirrors, and stained glass, a spiegeltent is a large traveling structure that is used for various types of entertainment; the San Severia was hand-crafted in Belgium in 1890, but technically is not a speigeltent.) Mainly, the Kingston tent acts as a Belgian eatery, but it will also host food trucks, the Kingston Farmers Market, and other community events — even yoga classes — before it is deconstructed in mid-September. “We’re changing the face of middle Kingston,” says Airhart.

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