Chloe Chafe and Andrew Eastman are the co-creative directors behind Winnipeg arts initiative Synonym Art Consultation. Since Synonym’s inception in 2013, the power-duo has curated over thirty unique art collections and events in locally owned venues around the city.
Chloe and Andrew are enthusiastic, but humble, deflecting praise toward collaborators, artists, business-owners, and anyone who is involved with one of their projects. Their passion is palpable, and their chemistry easy. Their energy - even in the final days of frenetic pre-festival preparation - is undeniably infectious. They are not only effecting change in our city, but inspiring others to do the same.
In 2014, Synonym’s Wall-to-Wall Mural and Culture Festival hit West Broadway, rousing the community during the dog days of summer. Now, the second rendition of the festival is upon us. And though this year promises to be a doozy, they are already dreaming of how to grow and build in their endeavour to make public art more accessible in Winnipeg.
Chloe Chafe: We want to get art from galleries and get it onto the streets. We want to make contemporary art as public and accessible as possible.
Andrew Eastman: That is our main goal.
CC: It’s always been our number one goal.
Muddy Water: So, broadly speaking, what is Wall-to-Wall Mural Festival?
AE: It is a festival that spans September in Winnipeg trying to bring gallery-quality art to the streets. Street art is an international phenomenon that has been happening for a long time. We went to Montreal [this year] and interned with [LNDMRK’s MURAL Festival], and started to get a pulse on the international scene. We need to find our own scale and our own way to participate in this dialogue. So for us, a big part of that requires a lot of education. [Winnipeggers] minds are a bit closed as to what public art can be, and what limitations there are, but I think we’re just trying to expand people’s minds. We’re trying to develop a street art community in Winnipeg working from the ground up, so we will always have parts of our festival that will focus on mentorship.
CC: What we’re trying to do is engage the public. We want art to be involved in everyday life, whether that’s the public seeing the process [of painting] or having the memory of meeting the artist. That’s also why we have big events for each mural; we want people to feel like they’re a part of [that] piece of art. It’s in their community. If we wanted to just commission artists to make murals throughout the year, we could. But the idea of this festival is to celebrate the process of beautifying our neighbourhoods.
AE: And also, the full name is Wall-to-Wall Mural and Culture Festival, so it isn’t just about making the murals. We have events with each of the murals that engage with local businesses, engage with musicians, engage with food makers and craft makers. It engages with so many different communities that can then feel like they’re a part of these murals and have these beautiful associations with these public works of art. Everyone gets to hold them together because they’re all involved on different levels.
MW: So previously, individual Synonym Art Consultation events were linking local businesses with local artists with local food with local music. You’re now endeavouring to build on that idea in a more concentrated capacity…
CC: Exactly. Our vision has actually, essentially, stayed the same. But that’s what ‘synonym’ means right? Now the way that we’re executing that vision is a little bit more focused, and trying to reach a broader audience, as diverse and inclusive as possible.
AE: We also collaborate as much as possible, with as many people and organizations as possible - Art City, Graffiti Art Programming, Studio 393, Rainbow Trout Music Festival, Big Fun Music Festival, Manitoba Music, Culture Days, Nuit Blanche, Muddy Water! All of these people, we want to promote with them. We want to partner with them. It shows how strong our community is; we’re all co-owners of this public beautification.
MW: So what did you learn last year, and how will the festival be morphing as you go into your second year?
CC: Last year we made five murals and only one of them was exterior. [The festival] was very West Broadway specific, which was amazing, and I think it really strengthened that community in a big way. But now we’re trying to grow as much as we can while doing it well. So what we really want to do is as many exterior pieces as possible.
AE: The other thing that we’ve said is that we’re moving beyond West Broadway to touch more neighbourhoods.
CC: With other neighbourhoods, you get other cultures and walks of life, which is what we want so badly. We don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves at all.
AE: We’re expanding into the West End with this [The Good Will] interior mural; Downtown we’re doing The Urban Bakery and Fools & Horses Coffee Co.; and in the Exchange we’re doing the front of C-Space with all twelve artists from last year and this year collaborating on that mural. For that mural we’re going to curate a colour palette and a theme that everyone works within so that it’ll be cohesive.
CC: And then that’s where we’re launching the [Rainbow Trout Music Festival] Bike Jam for Nuit Blanche, which is really exciting.
MW: Winnipeggers of our generation are starting to invest more in the city and wanting to make it better, and it’s showing. What’s interesting about Wall-to-Wall for me is that it’s such a tangible way of exhibiting that vibrancy - of having local artists invest in their city. These pieces are [more] permanent and accessible to everyone, and I love the way it embodies this surge of energy.