It all started at a show at Brock University’s Centre for the Arts. Before Alpha Yaya Diallo took the stage, Joe Lapinski and Annie Wilson got to chatting about local musician Mark Clifford’s Niagara Weave, a night that Centre for the Arts used to host to showcase Niagara musicians. By intermission, Sara Palmieri swung over to say hello. They inquired about the possibilities of doing something together and by the end of the show, Sara and Debbie Slade had booked the theatre for April 23, 2009.
Cut to the Merchant Ale House a month later, and the seed had been planted. Joe Lapinski, Deanna Jones, Sara Palmieri, Natasha Pedros, Jordy Yack and Annie Wilson had a pint (or two) and started the seeds of conversations that have grown into the festival. With a collective heart for downtown St. Catharines, and as active participants in an eclectic and lively local arts scene, the co-founders all drew on their mutual desire to create an accessible platform to bring people together with local artists to experience shared connection, elation and pride. They wanted to get down and dirty (and did).
The founding team kept building the ideas, brainstormed looks, and a whole lot of pun heavy ways of putting it all together. Natasha led design, Joe built a website, the team crafted a call for artists, and, much to their surprise, received hundreds of applications. It was around this time that the Niagara Artists Centre, St. Catharines and Area Arts Council and Centre for the Arts joined the roster as founding members, with further support provided by the City’s Cultural Services and the St. Catharines Downtown Association.
The first festival was 13 days (with one event per day) and featured a showcase at Centre for the Arts. It felt a bit like a marathon for festival organizers who, at the time, handled all aspects of each event.
Suitcase in Point took full reins in 2013 for the 4th edition of the festival and added their own distinct style. With the annual Dirty Comedy Cabaret, production of interdisciplinary artist ‘mash ups’, more site-specific installations and performances and a push for more one-time audience experiences, In the Soil Arts Festival soared to new heights. By year five, the Steering Committee had tightened the festival into 3 days of multi-layered, multidisciplinary mayhem in a truly Niagara rooted celebration of artistic awesomeness.
For the first half of our 19/20 season, we were working toward our 12th annual, three-day In the Soil Arts Festival. That quickly turned into a three-week online showcase of live and pre-recorded performances, workshops and more. From there, we continued to reimagine the festival, offering site-specific events in special outdoor spaces in 2021 and a Summer-long Series in 2022.
In the Soil Arts Festival was born out of a love of our community, of our downtown St. Catharines, of our artist friends and of the belief that we could pool our collective energies to help define and identify St. Catharines and Niagara as culturally distinct.