A Beginner’s Guide to the Winnipeg Art Scene

At a first glance, Winnipeg seems like an unlikely place to have an interesting art scene. Agribusiness, transportation, and manufacturing are the mainstays of our notoriously slow and steady economy. These are key industries that provide essentials all over the world, but they don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand with dreamers or visionaries. In this way, it’s unexpected to think of art as having a stronghold in the city. That is until you look a little closer.

The next time you walk through the downtown area, if you really look around, you’ll start to see it. Beautifully crafted murals are on the sides of buildings, in alleyways and even on electrical boxes. Intriguing fountains are found in unlikely places including the much instagrammed emptyful hiding behind the Millennium Library (one of my favorite downtown green spaces). Exploring downtown through the lens of art is an entirely new experience. While the guided tours offered by the Winnipeg Art Council have ceased for the season, they do offer a Public Art Guide including maps, pictures, and blurbs about each piece. As you do the tour, keep in mind that when and where you view these artworks may change how you see them, such as with the High Five piece located on Waterfront Drive. If interactive art is more your speed, then you may be interested in making some beautiful music (and maybe a new friend!) at You You + You at 580 Main Street. The wonderful thing about these artworks is that there truly is something for everyone. Conveniently, along your travels you’ll encounter some art studios, including the cre8eryUrban Shaman, and the Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art . You can take some art home with you by purchasing original prints from the Martha Street Studio or perusing the variety of works available at Warehouse Artworks.  Be sure to check each studio’s hours before you go, but generally all are open between 12 – 5 on Saturdays.

As the weather turns colder and wandering outdoors becomes less palatable, there are some larger than life places to go. The Legislature building itself is truly a work of art, both inside and out. If you haven’t made the effort to go and explore inside, you’re missing out. Earlier this year, Mike and I went on the Hermetic Code tour and we were left in awe of how many layers of myth and history the architect, Frank Worthington Simon, managed to incorporate into his vision for the building. If you enjoy mythology, secret codes, or conspiracy theories about the Freemasons, then this is worth your time.

The Winnipeg Art Gallery (aka the WAG) is art headquarters for the city. Designed to look like the prow of a rising boat on an ocean, the building itself is beautiful. The collection inside can be overwhelming at times due to its size. A good place to start though is with their current exhibitions. Currently running is the Insurgence/Resurgence featuring a large selection of Indigenous Artworks in a variety of media which by all accounts is spectacular.

This weekend, the WAG will also be party central for the annual art celebration Nuit Blanche which is one of my favorite nights of the year. Nuit Blanche is free which means it is accessible for all. Sometimes art (especially contemporary art) can feel inaccessible for the average person. Nuit Blanche is a chance to get rid of that idea. These artists create their works with a purpose whether its to change perceptions, provide commentary, or even a call to arms. Whatever the goal, these artworks typically need to be seen to have their designed impact. The yearly event is also an opportunity for these creatives to share their work with a broader audience. This also tends to be one of the last weekends to enjoy strolling around outside at night without a parka on so there is really no excuse not to go. Part of the event will be at the WAG, however you’ll find different things going on all over downtown, the Exchange and St. Boniface. You can find a full listing of events and works that will be on display here. If walking isn’t your thing, you may be interested in the Bike Jam.  Even viewed as a pedestrian, the Bike Jam is an amazing thing to experience (as long as you’re not trying to cross the street.)

So there you have it: an introduction to the Winnipeg art scene and how this weekend is the perfect time for you to become personally acquainted with it.

 

 

 

 

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Scenic Routes in Winnipeg

Winnipeg, like all other cities, is made up of smaller parts. Originally incorporated in 1873, Winnipeg was bounded in the north by Burrows Avenue west of Main Street, and Aberdeen Avenue east of Main Street; on the south by Assiniboine River; on the east by Red River; and on the west by Maryland Street, Notre Dame Avenue and McPhillips Street. If you look at this drawing of the original boundaries, you realize how small Winnipeg started off compared to how many neighbourhoods are included in the current perimeter.1873 City of Winnipeg

It wasn’t until 1972 that Charleswood, Fort Garry, North Kildonan, Old Kildonan, Tuxedo, East Kildonan, West Kildonan, St. Vital, Transcona, St. Boniface, and St. James-Assiniboia  amalgamated with the City of Winnipeg and the  Metropolitan Corporation of Greater Winnipeg to form Winnipeg as we know it today. Which helps to exaplin the baffling lack of consistency in urban planning and the lack of continuity in street names.

All this to say that this was the journey our city took to develop into the unique neighbourhoods we have today. It’s pretty cool to live in one place that offers such a variety of vibes depending on which part of the city you’re in. Some of our most well-loved neighbourhoods are the areas where the population density is the greatest. These are the parts of the city that feel alive and vibrant with people where you can people-watch or have impromptu reunions with old classmates or co-workers. For a long time I always felt wished that Winnipeg’s densely populated areas were more closely linked. Since Winnipeg is pretty sprawling compared to its overall population density, it feels like there are areas of the city where people will congregate, but because they feel unattached, it’s easy to think of them as being separate clumps. My parents live on the other side of the city from myself, so sometimes when I’m driving back and forth, I like to mix up my routes. Especially when it’s summer and driving around with the windows down. Unfortunately, if I take some of my normal routes, all I see are cars and more cars. Until I took a different route. Since then, I make it a habit to drive down routes that shows off the more active, pedestrian-friendly version of Winnipeg even if they aren’t as direct.

One of my favourite summer routes is between Waterfront Drive and Corydon Avenue. The best part is that this route can be enjoyed in any way, whether it’s driving, biking, or walking. Along Waterfront there are beautiful condominiums with a river view as well as Stephen Juba park and the Goldeyes Stadium. Across Provencher, Waterfront turns into Israel Asper Way, which winds towards the heart of the Forks. No matter what the season, there is always something going on. From the Forks, I like to make my way to Assiniboine Avenue, passing the Upper Fort Garry Heritage Park. Assiniboine Avenue is such a lovely little street with some really interesting buildings going up. It feels exactly how a downtown neighbourhood should feel; it’s tucked away from all the busy streets, but still homey with lots of greenery. My route winds down with a quick tour through Osborne Village and finishes up in the Corydon area for a coffee or a cocktail on one of the patios. It’s a perfect way to spend a warm Winnipeg evening.

Here is a map of the route:

I couldn’t include all the neighbourhoods I love to tour through, so if anyone is interested in more scenic routes, I can make similar posts in the future.

Do you have any favorite routes?

Decisions, Decisions

I’ve always been an indecisive person. Yesterday when I was leaving the house, I was trying to decide what shoes to wear, and I suggested a pair to Mike who made a non-committal comment. I was second-guessing myself when I realized what I was doing. Sometimes it makes sense to get a second opinion, like if you’re coordinating colours or a doctor says they need to amputate a limb. In this case however, I was deciding what shoes to wear to drive to my girlfriend’s house. Most people don’t decide, they just put on whatever shoes are handy and go. It can be frustrating on a daily basis when for example I get overwhelmed by menu options. It can be crippling when I freeze with uncertainty. I hate choosing when it impacts other people. If forced into making a decision, I need reassurances. If I walk into the restaurant first and have to choose the table, once we sit down, I’ll ask “Are you sure this is okay?” “Is there a draft?” “Do you wish we had chosen to sit by the window?” It’s irritating for me and for other people and can end up ruining my own enjoyment because I’m fretting the entire time.
Sometimes it seems like Winnipeg’s has a similar problem. We are the opposite of Star Trek, tentatively remaining where everyone has already been. We look to other cities, admiring their ideas and initiatives and agree that we should plan for the future. So we think about it. And think about it. And study it. And think about it some more. City council was debating light rail transit in the 1970s. Fifty years later, we continue to talk about how great it would be except that we (still) can’t afford it. Instead of accepting Bus Rapid Transit, City Hall orders study after study of rapid transit systems. Glen Murray commits to bus rapid transit, secures funding and then leaves office. This in turn allows Sam Katz to be elected and he scraps the plan. More studies are ordered. 8 years later, the first BRT corridor opens. Over 50 years worth of hemming and hawing and we have one BRT corridor to show for it. Of course in a political system, it’s not as easy as one person coming in and Making an executive decision. There are negotiations, compromises and trade-offs. These are big decisions with price tags and public opinion polls attached to them. The problem is that this is not unchartered territory. Rapid transit isn’t new. We have studies out the wazoo on this. Despite our best efforts, we’re slowly developing a BRT system.

The next controversial issue that we can look forward to agonizing over is reopening Portage and Main to pedestrians. When pedestrians were banned from the intersection in the 70s, a study concluded that Portage & Main was no longer viable to both pedestrians and cars. I wasn’t able to find detailed information, but I assume the study results were based on how the intersection was structured at the time, without taking into consideration alternative changes such scramble intersection. Ultimately, the city closed the intersection as part of a deal with a developer. An indoor pedestrian walkway was dreamt of as a way for Winnipeggers to be able to comfortably walk around downtown without worrying about losing a finger or a toe to frostbite. Apparently the original proposal was a pedestrian walkway above Portage and Main which is fun to imagine. The original proposal was rejected and the project became an underground walkway resembling a wheel. In exchange for the developer to build the underground structure, the city promised to keep the intersection closed for 50 years to ensure pedestrian traffic in the shops. This was a very expensive undertaking which is why the city committed to closing the intersection for so long. 37 years later, now that we take our underground walkway for granted; removing the barricades is our new dream. Things have changed. I’m not sure that in the 1970’s, the city thought our downtown would suffer so badly. They didn’t know we would be struggling to solve an urban sprawl problem. Maybe they thought transportation would have evolved into something completely new. Back to the Future 2 would be released ten years later and showcased hover boards in 2015. Anything was possible in the new millennium.

Of course, we’re all Winnipeggers at heart so while downtown changed, we haven’t. In 2015, City Hall commissioned a study to examine the issue. The results of the study should be presented to City Council sometime in 2017 so brace yourselves, this conversation is just getting started.

Winnipeg Renaissance

Why are transitions so painful? Within the past 6-8 months, I had some fresh starts. I went from renting an apartment to owning a home. I began sharing my life with someone. I moved to a new employer. I created this blog. As each new thing began, I didn’t stop to tie things off with my previous life. It was more of a cut-and-run approach leaving a trail of loose ends behind me. Sometimes that is how reality plays out. Sometimes things don’t work out exactly as you hope. There are a lot more grey areas than black and white. This is the place where things are messy.

In my case, my endings,the apartment, the old job, my prior hobbies, as a result of these new beginnings continued around me. Mentally, I quit my job last October, but couldn’t find a new job until June. I moved into our house in December, leaving most of my belongings in my old apartment until July. Life isn’t nearly as neat and tidy as we would like. If you are in one place today and another tomorrow, you can deal with that. It gets a lot more complicated when your right foot is in one place and your left is in another. It’s exhausting trying to care when you just don’t anymore. I settled into complete apathy regarding all of the things that I had ‘moved past.’ Those past reminders sat there waiting to be dealt with. July turned out to be a month of reckoning. I had to deal with every single ending which was painful and difficult. I’m emotionally tapped out, but I’m also a little lighter. Now I can go forward. I can embrace the future with all that I have. This experience is not unique to me. Nor is it particularly awful. Relatively speaking, these are minor challenges that fall under the category of Normal Life Shit. While I was feeling the anxieties and stresses that accompanied the entire experience, I thought about what that could mean for a community.

Cities experience their own periods of change. Leaders in our community push for change all the time. Of course with civic changes, the pace is slower. New developments have to be reviewed and approved. Designs have to be drawn. Funds allocated. And yet there are clear periods of time where there is a momentum shift. Downtown is a prime example. The way my grandparents spoke of it, downtown was a thriving destination. In their time residents would dress up, catch the bus and go downtown. To catch a show, to get a coffee, whatever. As the years went by, circumstances changed. The pendulum swung. Portage and Main became a place for work with most spending their time inside office buildings. Downtown was only a destination in that we drove in, only to drive back out at the end of the day.We built outwards, expanding city limits as we pushed to be away from downtown. Public transport became unfashionable as we found the convenience of strip malls and big box stores. Downtown continued to decline. Slowly as a city we acknowledged that something had to be done.  In 2003 Eaton’s was torn down to be replaced by the True North Arena. The momentum shifted. In true Manitoba fashion, our progress has crawled along, slowly, persistently.  We built a modern green home for Manitoba Hydro, the building itself reflecting the thought process that an office building doesn’t have to be only for work. Office building by day, beautiful venue for social functions at night.We bridge the gap between today and my grandparent’s time by ripping the guts out of old Exchange District warehouses while honouring their memory by preserving stylish beams and bricks. 

Once you achieve a level of distance, it is easier to accept and honour the past with a feeling of nostalgia. With recent history, it’s tempting to erase it because we don’t see it as heritage. It’s a reminder of a previous time including the failures. Currently the Public Safety Building is slated for demolition. This fortress-like building doesn’t fit with our current beginning. It serves as a stark reminder against the lightness and beauty of places like the Manitoba Hydro building. If the PBS building is razed, we are left with one less building in our collection of Brutalist archicture that fits together with the Manitoba Museum and Manitoba Theatre Centre. If we can hang on to the PBS building to honour its memory and repurpose it, we can take the opportunity to share another piece of our past with future generations. In our zeal for a Winnipeg Renaissance, it’s easy to get carried away in the new beginnings and not take a moment to accept that the past is a part of us. We shouldn’t give that away in an attempt to forget.