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A look at four of the many public art installations in Winnipeg, Manitoba:
Heaven Between, High Five, YOU YOU + YOU. DIY Field
Winnipeg, Manitoba has long been known for its vibrant arts community, performance and visual. Since 2004, a new public arts policy developed by the Winnipeg Arts Council and adopted by the City of Winnipeg has led to a greater focus on public art. The Winnipeg Arts Council Public Art Program develops projects in public spaces, facilitates community-based projects, holds workshops, and organizes forums and other public events. On a free tour offered by the Council, I learned more about the four installations in this post.
Heaven Between by Bill Pechet, commissioned in 2016, is the first installation on Broadway Avenue as part of the Winnipeg Arts Council’s vision for artwork which creatively lights the Avenue. It is made of aluminum, galvanized steel, and LED lights. The dome shape is inspired by the domes on buildings at either end of the Avenue: Union Station rail station and the Manitoba Legislature Building. The cut-out silhouettes are the shape of elm leaves, representative of the hundred-year-old trees lining the street.
The “between” part of the sculpture’s name has a variety of meanings: between two poles, between earth and sky, between night and day, between the Manitoba Legislature Building and the train station. As to the “heaven” part, the sky is thought of as heaven in many cultures and a sky-vault is a dome.
Artist Bill Pechet is from Vancouver, but has a connection with Winnipeg because his father’s family settled in Winnipeg from eastern Europe. He says, “For me, the city of Winnipeg is a place with a very deep soul. . . my grandparents are buried here and as I walk around I often sense the after-images of their stories and the city’s role as a place where people came and still do come from all over the world to find some peace and a future for their families.”
When dusk hits, Heaven Between is softly lit from the inside with a flickering glow resembling candle light. An eternal flame is often a symbol of safety, warmth, meditation, and spirituality.
High Five, created by artist Jennifer Stillwell, is made of stainless steel and is situated on Waterfront Drive. The piece is “site-specific”, built considering the space on which it sits, a sloping piece of grass between Shaw Park, the baseball stadium which is home to the Winnipeg Goldeyes, and the river, along a road which sees both vehicle and pedestrian traffic. Up close the piece looks like fins or wings in formation. Viewed from a distance, such as from the stands of the baseball stadium, the piece becomes an abstracted hand. Each wing is the same size, over 25 feet tall, but the artist worked with the slope to create the shape of a human hand from a distance. Jennifer Stillwell is a contemporary Canadian visual artist who grew up in Manitoba.
YOU YOU + YOU
YOU YOU + YOU by Jacqueline Metz and Nancy Chew was commissioned as a collaboration between the Winnipeg Arts Council and the United Way of Winnipeg. It is located at the United Way Building on Main Street. The medium is cast aluminum, LED luminaries, and interactive media for sound and light.
Hand prints on the pole invite you to touch and place you hand atop the impression. The warmth of your hand triggers a note on the pentatonic scale. Each hand print is linked to a light on the building wall so the music becomes visible, the lights forming the Braille for YOU. Hands have long been an image for the United Way. YOU YOU + YOU is about community participation. A melody is created as more people join in. The artwork is also a metaphor for giving voice to people.
When I visited on the tour, the music played was that of a flute. The instrument changes. The next time I visit, I may hear a different instrument. Maybe a piano, maybe something else.
DIY Field by Germaine Koh is an interactive grid of 38 pedestrian-scale metal light posts on a sloped piece of ground in Winnipeg’s Central Park, along Edmonton Street between Ellice Avenue and Cumberland Avenue. Each simple metal post contains energy-efficient RGB (red, green, blue) LED lights with three robust buttons to turn each colour channel on and off separately. Combinations of the three primary colours permit eight light colours per post: red, green, blue, yellow, cyan, magenta, white, and no light. Germaine Koh is a Canadian visual artist based in Vancouver.
Central Park was created in the 1900s. It was a natural space with grass, trees, gravel paths, gardens, tennis courts and a band shell. It was surrounded by upscale homes. The Depression saw a move to the suburbs and many of the grand houses were subdivided. Many were knocked down in the 1960s and 1970s to make way for high rises. In the 1970s and 1980s Central Park became a hang out for the homeless and marginalized. It eventually developed a reputation as a park where drug and gang activity flourished.
The late 1990s saw an influx of African refugees and immigrants. With many young families in the neighbourhood, there was renewed interest in the park. It became home to soccer matches and entertainment. After years of neglect, the City refurbished the park in 2009 and 2010. The park got a soccer pitch, a spray park and wading pool, a playground and toboggan slides. It has a full-size skating rink in the winter. In a densely populated area with little green space, Central Park is now regularly used by families. The DIY Field installation is in keeping with the themes of play in the park.
The pieces of public art I’ve highlighted represent a small sample of the more than 50 Winnipeg Art Council’s Public Art installations. Beyond the public art program, you can find other public art installations, created before the program was in place, commissioned by neighbourhood business development organizations, or set up by private individuals and organizations. I’ve written about some of these other pieces in Art at the Library and Public Art in St. Boniface.
The Winnipeg Arts Council offers several tours of public art throughout the year, including walking and biking tours during the summer months. Tours are generally free, but require preregistration. Check the website for information.
“We need art, in the arrangement of cities as well as in other realms of life, to help explain life to us, to show us meanings, to illuminate the relationship between the life that each of us embodies and the life outside us.” ∼Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities
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