The old Indiantown of Saint John’s North End is not the sort of place you would expect to find a hotbed of culture, it’s barely made it into the 21st century. The modern trappings of power lines have crept across neglected homes and often derelict buildings like vines. The old carriageways haven’t seen a lot of love since they were laid out after the fire of 1864. But in the very heart of it, on Kennedy Street, is the home to a collection of artists and musicians that have turned their space into something special.
Like most things, Kennedy Street is best experienced first hand. From the curb, the building gives little away of what’s actually inside. Large and sprawling, typical of apartment complexes built in the late 1800’s, the building is otherwise unassuming. Approaching from the side yard, a few hints provide something of a tease, like the contents of the house have spilled over to the exterior. Once inside though, it’s a full frontal assault on the senses, as if Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters had allowed their bus to take root, and sprout three more floors.
Kennedy House grew out of a failed marriage between Areli Faythe and her partner Peter, but it’s also the ideological successor to their previous home on Bridge Street that shared many of the same values and promoted a similar aesthetic. “I took over managing the place after a failed marriage and a broken heart. When I got it I was sad, but I was allowed to do what I wanted to make it better.” Areli had begun dating a musician, and so the first step was to create a jam room for the band to practice in. Some artist friends moved in on the top floor, and then the painting started. “As you can imagine, it was a little messy, and as people started getting healthier the whole place started getting healthier. Now I know I have a bunch of solid people around that I can talk to, and trust, or if I leave for a second they can watch my kids. I have a home that I’m able to share with a whole bunch of my friends. Music and art has been really healing for me, and being able to have some space for that to happen around me, I’m thankful for that.”
“My kids think it’s kind of normal. They don’t understand why anybody would come and tell a story about our house.”
“I just sort of fell into it. My marriage broke up and I was a stay at home mother with four children. That was my life, but when I wasn’t with my partner anymore, I just had nothing. I went to a festival I guess, and I started seeing a bunch of people just being happy, and making music together. After the festivals, they’d come and sleep and just be together late into the night, and those things that are healing when they happen. I don’t really think I’m bohemian at all. I just think it’s okay to paint on the walls. If you have a place, and you’re not pissing off your neighbours doing it, you should be making music, and making beautiful things. Humans are artists…”
Like iron sharpening iron, the atmosphere has promoted an environment where creativity can flourish. It’s become like an artists resort and spa. While they do stress that it is still an apartment building with regular tenants, it consists of a large and open community, mixed with the occasional traveling band, or wandering friend. McKayla Arseneau moved in back in January after visiting a friend who had been living there, “We all live in separate apartments, but if I wanted to go down and visit Areli, or ask for a spice, or some salt, then I can. Or I can go out back and play some music with the people that live in the other apartment. If you feel like you want to create, do it. We’ve had multiple art parties in the last two weeks where we’ve all gotten together and painted, and it’s been a really nice. We’re just letting our inspiration out instead of sitting around and talking. We’re creating and making something beautiful, and that’s what we really strive for; let out your creativity, and find who you are, and your true strengths. This house is like a living breathing thing with a heartbeat, but it’s always changing, and that’s really beautiful.”
“The people make what you see, and what you see is really beautiful, so it means the people are really ten times beautiful, and it’s really eye-opening.” -McKayla Arseneau
The collection of people that live there has become a living tapestry that defines the environment as much as the ever-changing canvas of the walls. Kennedy House has played host to Jinx The Cat, Sam Astorino of The Torinos, Smoke & Bones, Matt Soucy, Drake Adams and The Sticky Bandits, it’s also been home to artists such as Nate Guimond, Sharon Epic, and K-La Kiltraven. They’ve each contributed to the place in their own way, and in some cases left a very tangible mark. It’s an environment that Areli has encouraged by bringing in friends from the larger New Brunswick artists community, “If we collaborate and put our stuff together, look at what we create. We can make some really beautiful things, and I think that’s something that I’m seeing happen around me. It’s just a building. It could happen anywhere. I feel like the building and I are friends. We’ve been hanging out for a while. It’s kind of cheesy that way, but I feel there’s definitely an energy here that’s happy that we’re all happy.”