Words: Kent Mundle / Photos: Joseph Visser
Tuesday, September 23rd @ EMK Clothing (143 Sherbrook St.)
Mural "Girls Gone Piled" by Matea Radic
Music by Midnight Choir
Wednesday, September 24th @ Thom Bargen (64 Sherbrook St.)
Mural "Girl on Blanket" by Natalie Baird
Cocktail party by Blind Pig Pop Up
Thursday, September 25th @ The Tallest Poppy (685 Westminster Ave.)
Art Collection "Short Poppies" by Jade Rennie-Harper
Music by JOM JOM CLUB
Friday, September 26th @ Thom Bargen (64 Sherbrook St.)
Art Sale with Various Synonym Artists
Music by Rayannah, Ben Figler, Adam Nikkel, and Bunny
Saturday, September 27th @ Food Fare Parking Lot (115 Maryland St.)
Mural "Puppy Love" by Gabrielle Funk and Takashi Iwasaki
Performances by Studio 393, Animal Teeth, and Surprise Party
Videos by Gwen Trutnau
Mural Tour by Michel St. Hilaire
Bike Decorating by Art City
Bike Tune-Ups by Natural Cycle
ike Jam by Rainbow Trout Music Festival
One warm autumn evening, a woman walks down Sherbrook Street. She is travelling Canada - from Germany - and only in Winnipeg for the night. On the sidewalk ahead, a party is spilling onto the street from a clothing boutique. The chatter and laughter of those who linger outside fill the night.
Not knowing what she has stumbled upon, the woman decides to poke her head into the shop. She is quickly swept into an evening of belting out songs by The Backstreet Boys and The Spice Girls, Midnight Choir style. She parties the night away with a welcoming group of new friends.
However, the night must come to an end. The group laments that the woman must leave so soon. Like many travellers, she hasn’t planned to spend much time in Winnipeg. It’s not enough to see all that our city has to offer. It’s only Tuesday night. And this week, in particular, is special.
In the following days, Winnipeg was a magical city. New businesses opened their doors, as local artists painted their walls. Local music accompanied nights of delicious food and cocktails. Acoustic acts filled coffee shops. Such was the effect of the latest spectacle put on by the Synonym Art Consultation duo, Chloe Chafe and Andrew Eastman. The Wall-to-Wall Local Art & Culture festival spanned five days, leading into Culture Days and Nuit Blanche.
Prior to the events, a series of artists adorned the walls of local businesses with painted murals. The works were done publicly, allowing passersby to experience the making firsthand. The murals provided the backdrop for the festival to take place. Each event held its own distinct atmosphere. To mention a couple, the Midnight Choir session at EMK Clothing fostered an intense togetherness, while the Blind Pig team put on a raucous dinner party at Thom Bargen. The week grew towards Saturday night, exploding into the spectacle that was Nuit Blanche.
Despite the range of events throughout the festival, each day there was a distinct sentiment remaining within the crowd. It was an awareness of something changing in the city. It was the sense of a sort of voice surfacing. Following the festival, we sat down with Chloe and Andrew to discuss their expectations of the festival, as well as what the past week meant for the growth of Winnipeg culture.
Muddy Water: Last week must have been pretty intense for you two. How does it feel now to be able to reflect on the festival?
Andrew Eastman: Right after Nuit Blanche I actually left for New York for a few days. I wiped the glitter off my face and got on a flight at 3am. To be honest, New York was a bit of a let down after seeing how [high] Winnipeg was this past week. The city was at its peak. Our events Saturday were just a pregame to the energy downtown. The bar has been set so high now that I think things will just continue to improve. I’m so proud of Winnipeg.
MW: Throughout the festival, there was a great sense of community - is this something that you two intended to foster?
Chloe Chafe: It was a big year for people wanting to participate. I think in the past, Culture Days and Nuit Blanche have involved people coming as observers. They might have had a cocktail at the WAG, or seen a show at Old Market Square in the afternoon, which are weird, amazing and great. But this year had a real participatory element to it. People wanted to be a part of something, whether it be the bike jam or talking to the artists during the making of the murals. I think it was a huge step for the city. When people got to see the making of the murals, and talk to the artists, they now understood that they were a part of something that would last for twenty plus years. They get to take that home with them.
AE: My favourite thing was that the whole festival was grounded in the community events. Crazy, fun parties are great, but the midday event at Thom Bargen was so lovely. People were coming to the shop that day that hadn’t heard about what was going on and got so excited. They stayed for hours.
CC: We saw some middle aged people on their coffee break approach the musicians telling them how amazing they thought it was. They ended up taking pictures together. That’s something that can’t happen at the big concert setting. Those mini interactions are so special.
MW: Why do you think this sense of community is so important to Winnipeg?
CC: I think it’s because we don’t have three million things to choose from and we aren’t all spread out. Obviously we do have sprawl, I don’t know what people are doing out there, maybe there are some really cool things. But at the center of Winnipeg, its tough and gritty and it can be a struggle, so when something beautiful happens we really appreciate it. When something like this happens, people really want to support it, because we want to grow. Our whole generation wants to move forward.
AE: I think it’s a symptomatic thing in Canada. Canadians have a good identity, but it’s so bombarded by American culture. Winnipeg is like that on a concentrated scale. It’s just the right amount of people to do interesting things, but it’s not like New York where you get lost in a sea of anonymity. Here, people can have a voice and throw a grass roots festival, where anywhere else that would be a drop in a bucket.
CC: Exactly - just like Big Fun Festival. A huge music festival in the winter is so whack, but it's huge and people love it because it's the only thing that can help us survive and come together.
AE: To bring up New York again - it’s so fresh in my brain - each of the neighbourhoods has such a distinct voice. Here’s SOHO, there’s NOHO, and that’s LOHO, all stacked on top of each other. Sherbrook is the first area to feel like a distinct neighbourhood - Corydon and The Village are both destinations where you go to eat or shop or drink, but I don’t know that they have that sense of community. That is why we focused on Sherbrook for the festival. We wanted to identify the voice that’s growing there.
MW: People often describe their relationship with Winnipeg as love/hate. Can it get to a point of being only positive?
AE: The one good thing about love/hate is that it encourages people to make Winnipeg better. Being in the freezing cold, dirty city, you can let the hate take you over, which is not a good thing. But I think that edge makes Winnipeg a project, an ongoing project to work at. I was just away for four days and couldn’t wait to get back at it. It’s like [with] family. Sometimes it’s love/hate, but love is the grounding factor. The edge of dissatisfaction is important to drive you to do things. If you were just living on the beach under a palm tree sipping margaritas every day, you wouldn’t do anything. That edge of not having everything that you need is what makes things interesting.
CC: We need to do something because it’s too depressing otherwise.
MW: Did you expect this festival to become about so much more than murals?
AE: We did call it a mural and culture festival, so we tried to tie in music, the culinary arts, and coffee. Business is something that’s important to us. A lot of people often have that dichotomy of being the man versus the artist, but it’s not like that. We are a business first of all - not a very profitable business, but technically we are! Sometimes we can afford a chocolate bar to treat ourselves for all our hard work. We just want art and beauty all around everyone, and we want everyone to see what’s already around them. After someone goes to an event at one of the local restaurants, we hope they realize that it’s the most beautiful new space, and want to come back for dinner or drinks.
CC: Or now when you want to have a meeting you’ll go to the coffee shop that you saw some amazing acoustic acts perform at. Those are the things that make you want to go to a business and support the local economy. It’s amazing if we can help support that. We believe in local entrepreneurs more than anything. Creating the relationships is so important. We want the business owner to know the artist that they’re working with. When I was at EMK Clothing, the collaborating artist Matea walked in. [She] and Erin hugged. They hadn’t even met yet! But they had this instant intense connection because Matea put this piece on her wall. It’s important because next time Matea wants a purse, she’s probably going to go to EMK. We know a lot of people have eaten at Tallest Poppy all week now.
MW: The past week of Wall-to-Wall and Culture Days has seemed to embody a rising energy in the city. Do you think that there’s something significant happening? Or are we in a sort of bubble as young people who don’t see the bigger picture?
CC: The energy definitely comes in waves. Maybe because we’re at the age where we’re a part of it, we’re more aware. But there was a big spectrum of ages being a part of it all this year - even people with kids and who own houses, like real adults.
AE: I think it is happening. I think on the night of Nuit Blanche everyone realized that this is next level, and something changed. I’m not sure what it was, but everyone committed fully to their projects. It was so next level that people are going to try and keep it there. Obviously we can’t have Nuit Blanche every night because people would be wasted all the time and lose their jobs. But art needs to be a part of the everyday. Art and culture are services as much as plowing the road is. Politicians in our province and in our city often co-opt the idea of Winnipeg being a cultural and creative city. There was a great article recently by Alan Freeman [for CBC] that asked what the mayoral candidates are actually going to do about the arts for the city, [rather than] just use it as a political platform that never goes anywhere. So getting a voice out there is important, and having physical evidence like Nuit Blanche will help to do that. So, yeah I think there’s a big change coming.
If this big change in Winnipeg is, in fact, on it's way, surely Andrew, Chloe and all of their collaborators from Wall-to-Wall will be at the forefront. Rumour has it that a future project for Synonym involves turning the Sherbrook Inn into a sort of Budapest Hotel. Let's hold them to that. If the rumour spreads, maybe we can make it happen.