Shining ever-loving lights on the exchange

Light-based art fest illuminates downtown’s most vibrant district

Lights on the Exchange is bringing projected art installations to the neighbourhood until March 21.

Red Photo Co. (Supplied)

If Winnipeg’s bustling Exchange District seems brighter as of late, there’s no need to get your prescription checked. An exploratory exhibition combining light and art installations in a novel way recently arrived on its famed streets.

“Last year was our first sort of trial-run year,” David Pensato, executive director of Exchange District BIZ, says.

Lights on the Exchange is a new public arts festival that runs until March 21 and features numerous light-based and light-inspired pieces and installations. Taking inspiration from similar festivals like Luminothérapie in Montreal and the Fête des lumières in Lyon, France, the festival aims to showcase the works of Canadian artists and bring traffic to the area.

“A lot of the other light-based festivals are very heavy on the spectacle side,” Pensato says. “This is an opportunity to contribute a new type of art-based festival to the area in the wintertime where there is not as much going on publicly. It’s also an opportunity for artists to tell different kinds of histories, different kinds of stories.”

The project – which may become an annu- al event – is a joint partnership between Exchange District BIZ, Artspace Inc., Manufacturing Entertainment and the Winnipeg Arts Council.

“Our focus was really on building the foundation of this and commissioning artworks that, the majority of which, we’re able to house and store and bring back for subsequent years,” Pensato says. “The intent is for this to really grow and be a sustainable, regular feature of Winnipeg in winter.”

Yisa Akinbolaji is one of the featured artists. He was invited to submit a proposal and was approved for his lightbox piece “Peaceful Protest, the Dividend of True Democracy.”

“Essentially, it’s a work that I created in a simple shape and form. If you look at the piece, it’s more or less like a semi-abstract work. What you’re going to see is the placards on it, something that’s going to give an impression of people carrying signs,” he says.

Deliberately stationed at the location of Winnipeg’s General Strike of 1919, the work explores the power of the people’s will on democracy.

“It’s almost a memorial. My protest, my communication through that piece is actually advocating for everybody. Something you see are barcodes ... I play with symbolism, the idea of economy, money,” Akinbolaji says.

Pensato says the festival also hopes to highlight the histories of the area.

“We really want to keep that (idea) flexible and fluid, to be perfectly honest. There are works that speak to the refugee and immigrant experience, works that reclaim Indigeneity in the neighbourhood ... works that speak to even just the cultural experience of the Exchange District,” he says.

“Although Winnipeggers may know about it, from an artist’s perspective, it’s maybe a little bit different. Thematically, we want to keep it fluid, so it does have the chance to evolve.”

Pensato highlights artist Casey Koyczan’s projection-based work near the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, among others.

“That one is really stunning to look at. The two big lightboxes going up at city hall and the Poet Box returning on Albert Street,” Pesanto says. “Those are going to be very interesting as well to look at.”

To download a map of the artworks, visit

Published in Volume 78, Number 18 of The Uniter (February 15, 2024)

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