Building community with public art

Art can be found even in Winnipeg’s nooks and crannies

One doesn’t have to look far to find art in Winnipeg’s downtown. This year, the city became the Creative City Network’s first winner of the Award of Excellence in Public Art.

“We’re very thrilled with that. I think it suggests the quality of work that’s done in Winnipeg,” executive director of the Winnipeg Arts Council (WAC) Carol Phillips says.

The WAC manages the public art policy in the city and organizes projects throughout the city. 

They are responsible for the art on downtown public property, including the marbles along Portage Avenue and emptyful, the beaker-shaped sculpture in the Millennium Library Park.

Phillips says art can humanize the urban environment.

“They really enhance connections between people and place and culture,” Phillips says.

Not all the art in downtown Winnipeg is just for looking at. Artist Cullen Bingeman created the sculpture on the northeast corner of Kennedy and Graham, which can amplify sound.

However, he’s seen children use the structure, titled Behold The Hear Trumpet!, as something to play on, rather than with, as well.

Bingeman says having art in public spaces is an important part of community.

“I think it’s important because in our cities, we think a lot about the utilitarian aspect of things,” Bingeman says. “How things run, how we’re going to transport people, how we’re going to provide services.”

He says there’s been a long history of public art in the city and there have been many steps to increase and add value to it. He credits Glenn Murray for some of this work.

“He started a public art program that was done in consultation with communities,” Bingeman says. Under Murray, grants were also given out to increase art in public venues around the city.

“I, myself, was involved in an innovative and cool program that was spearheaded between the University of Manitoba and the Downtown BIZ,” Bingeman says. He received university credit for creating Behold The Hear Trumpet!

Public art is not always formal and organized. Graffiti, yarn bombs and other forms of unapproved art can be found even in brick walls, as was the case with the Hole in the Wall Gallery. The art gallery, created by David Churchill, was held behind a West End grocery store with art being placed in a hole where a brick was missing.

Bingeman says public art such as this is an interesting phenomenon that has been around a long time.

“So much communication happens over social media and the internet and that type of thing. In some ways, it’s not surprising that the public domain is looked upon as a space that maybe we neglect a little bit more than we should or maybe is not sort of seen as a space that there’s a lot of investment in,” Bingeman says.

Bingeman would like to see more public art in Winnipeg, as would Phillips.

“We’re very fortunate that the City of Winnipeg invests in public art. We think there can never be enough,” Phillips says.

Join us for Growing the Urban Landscape, a panel discussion presented by the Uniter Speaker Series, on Nov. 21 at the West End Cultural Centre. Doors at 7:15 p.m. and panel at 8:00 p.m. Admission is free for students and $10 otherwise.

Published in Volume 71, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 17, 2016)

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