More support for the arts


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Since the resurrection of the Jets, Winnipeg’s arts scene has seemingly taken a back seat to the NHL frenzy.

Visual artists especially have felt the pangs of neglect; no one seems to want to buy art anymore when they could be spending their hard-earned dollars on something much more permanent - like tickets to a Jets game.

“There is more culture in Winnipeg than the Jets, (or) than the 20,000 people that go downtown twice a week,” jokes Andrew Eastman, co-creator of Synonym Art Consultation.

Eastman and long-time friend Chloe Chafe recently created Synonym Art Consultation - an event planning, PR initiative that hopes to enhance the visibility of the Winnipeg arts scene by integrating visual art into non-gallery locales.

Representing seven artists so far (among these Toby Gillies, Kenneth Lavallee and Ben Kroeker), Synonym connects artists with like-minded local business owners, curating customized exhibits that are then displayed within these public locales for three to four months.

Synonym’s launch party will be held at The Hive Hair Company on Friday, April 5, and will showcase works by Lavallee and Kroeker.

Next up will be Gillies’s solo show at Deseo Bistro on Sunday, May 5.

“We design a fun event that rebrands art in a new way, so we can experience art not just in a typical kind of gallery setting,” Eastman says.

“And instead of just calling it an ‘opening,’ we’re focusing on calling it more a ‘party’ or a ‘celebration,’” adds Chafe. “I think getting the name ‘gallery’ out of it can be a big step. It’s kind of integrating it into a more normal venue.”

Eastman hopes that Synonym’s use of more familiar spaces will entice wider audiences into coming out to support local artists.

“We’re integrating art into a more public space. It’s not that art galleries aren’t public, but they are a bit insular, and they are in a bit of a bubble. I think lots of people feel kind of out of place when they go to art shows, and we want to make this more accessible.”

Chafe and Eastman have both collaborated on various pop-up art shows in the past, and realize how exclusive the art community may seem.

“All of our hippie friends would come to those events, but it can be kind of exclusive; you know not everyone is going to walk up to a third floor in the Exchange District for a show,” Chafe says.

“Whereas this is kind of making art an integral part of our culture ... if people are going out to eat, then they might as well also be getting an artistic experience.”

With the inflation of rent prices in the downtown core since the return of the Jets, Gillies says that Winnipeg’s commercial gallery spaces have pretty much disappeared. Hence why he is so grateful for Synonym’s help in promoting his work - a task that he and many other artists find daunting.

“There are no commercial galleries for me to put my art in anymore, so I like (Synonym) because it’s a very casual, quick setting. That’s good for me because I’m making art all the time, and it’s nice to be able to show it.”

“I think everyone in the city wants to have interesting art in their business, but they can’t manage that on their own,” he replies.

Having both worked in the hospitality industry for many years, Eastman and Chafe can attest to this.

“There are a bunch of new young business owners that are very conscious of (visual art) and I think that’s going to be very helpful in helping our city grow culturally,” Chafe says.

“And it’s not about us just stamping shows onto venues; it’s a dialogue with the business owner, with the artist, of trying to make the right fit,” Eastman pipes in.

With the culmination of hockey season comes the reestablishment of festival season, the latter bringing with it an entirely new crowd and a realm of possibilities for Synonym.

“We see the response at Nuit Blanche, and it’s crazy that all these people come for this one night. I think the public is hungry for engagement with the arts, and we’re just a small piece of this transformation.”

Part of the series: The Urban Issue 2013

Published in Volume 67, Number 25 of The Uniter (March 28, 2013)

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