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Art of Death Conference offers music, speakers, workshops

Stephen Jenkinson is a presentator for the Art of Death Conference, speaking at 7 p.m. Oct. 22 at Western Washington University’s Academic West Lecture Hall.
Stephen Jenkinson is a presentator for the Art of Death Conference, speaking at 7 p.m. Oct. 22 at Western Washington University’s Academic West Lecture Hall. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

In 2014, Ashley Benem, a practicing death midwife, was inspired by an art installation by Scott Kolbo that she saw in Anacortes, a charcoal and ink sketch of an old man and a mass of crows who pull gently at his coat and trousers to lift him up, and then he fades away to disappear. Benem says that crows and ravens are symbolic with death in almost every culture, and can herald death or help a person cross over from the living into the next realm of death, and the mystery beyond that.

The image brought her to the thought that though the arts, people might view death in a different way. She organized dozens of events — films, musical events, speakers and workshops — about choices surrounding death and how to prepare for it. More than 500 people attended the conference events.

The second Art of Death Conference takes place Friday, Oct. 2, through Oct. 11, with the theme “The Web We Weave.” Benem explains it as “how we can get tangled in the sticky paths or threads of end-of-life issues, or how we can utilize the web of support to carry us with ease across the unknown path towards death.”

Organizers for this year’s conference have partnered with Bellingham Public Library’s Fairhaven Library and Whatcom Museum’s Lightcatcher as spaces where most of the activities will take place.

The main event is at 6 p.m. Oct. 10 at the Lightcatcher, 250 Flora St., and is a dance and spoken-word performance to illustrate the struggles we encounter from “the web we weave ourselves,” she says, “as we enter the path toward end-of-life.”

The keynote speaker for the Oct. 10 event is violinist and motivational speaker Swil Kanim, and includes a viewing of a current exhibit at the museum, “Helmi’s World: Symbol, Myth, Fantasy.” Tickets to this event are $10 adults, $8 students and seniors, and free for ages 10 and younger, and are available at the Community Food Co-op and at the door.

Some of the other events during the nine-day conference are “Moving the Bones: Lively Songs About Death,” with Tracy Spring, Flip Breskin, Geof Morgan, Laura Smith and Richard Scholtz, at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 4, at Fairhaven Library; an exhibit of art works on the theme of death, with an emphasis on death as an act of movement or transition, organized by Allied Arts, opening during the Downtown Art Walk, at 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 2, at Presence Studio, 1412 Cornwall Ave.; and the culminating event, a presentation by Stephen Jenkinson, the author of “Die Wise,” at 7 p.m. Oct. 22 at Western Washington University’s Academic West Lecture Hall. Tickets are $25 advance through Pay Pal, $35 at the door. The documentary “Griefwalker,” which depicts Jenkinson on visits with the terminally ill, will be shown at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 6, at Fairhaven Library.

Most of the events are free and do not require registration.

Details: artofdeathexpo.com.

New season for Community Gospel Choir

Jonita Johnson, who goes by Jay, wants to let singers know that the first practice of the Bellingham Gospel Choir is at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 6, at Roosevelt Community Church, 1710 Kentucky St. Johnson founded the choir in 2007, and the ensemble performs throughout Whatcom County. There are no auditions, and all are welcome.

Details: bellinghamgospelchoir.org, on Facebook, 360-223-8098, or email her at bellinghamgospelchoir@hotmail.com.

Reach Margaret Bikman at 360-715-2273 or margaret.bikman@bellinghamherald.com.

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