BRADENTON -- Skeletons associated with the "Day of the Dead" might conjure up an image that would convince anyone Halloween hasn't quite ended yet, but the ninth annual Village of the Arts Festival of the Skeletons celebrating the Mexican holiday "Dia de los Muertos" is a day of joy, not fear.
The festival kicks off from 6-9:30 p.m. Friday and again on Saturday from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. with Mexican music and food being offered at all five of the village's restaurants and certain street locations.
According to festival chair Zoe Von Averkamp, owner of Divine Excess, the festival continues to grow in popularity. Originally called Latin Fest, Von Averkamp lent her fascination with the Mexican holiday and changed the landscape of the village's celebration about seven years ago when she took over as chair.
"My husband and I have been collecting Mexican Day of the Dead folk art for years and we attended the celebration in Mexico," she said. "When we changed to the Day of the Dead for the village celebration, I tried to make it as authentic as possible, as if they went to Mexico for the festival."
Festival traditions include building shrines to a deceased loved one, friends and even pets. The village holds true to that tradition with artists building shrines in their galleries, as well as contributing to a community shrine the village builds each year to honor a late artist, which this year will be Georgia O'Keeffe. The shrine and "memory wall" where people can leave messages to their own dearly departed will be near the corner of 12th Street West and 11th Avenue West in the village.
"This year we are also doing a skeleton puppet procession that will stroll through the village Friday night and on Saturday," said Von Averkamp. "The village will be lit on Friday night with skeleton luminary bags."
While skeletons are typically related to the "scary" genre, Von Averkamp notes that the majority of Day of the Dead folk art features skeletons that are smiling and there is a good reason for that.
"It really is a loving memory of deceased loved ones to honor them and talk about them," she said. "It's a very, very beautiful holiday in Mexico and I'm glad it's becoming more popular in the states. This has nothing to do with scary. It represents the dearly departed and in Mexico, they believe the departed come back for that holiday to join their loved ones in all the joyous things they did in life like eating, dancing and making love. We call our event a celebration of life, not death."
Von Averkamp said despite the holiday's growing popularity in the states, she knows of nowhere else locally that offers a Day of the Dead celebration, "and certainly not as authentic as the village's. It's a family-oriented event, everything is free and we do see a lot of families come every year.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter@urbanmark2014.