First Fridays in the Exchange

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First Fridays in the Exchange

Touring artist studios and talking to artists in Winnpeg’s historic Exchange District

First Fridays in the Exchange is an event occurring in the Exchange District of Winnipeg, Manitoba on the first Friday of the month. From 5 to 9 pm, artists open their studios to visitors and some of the unique shops in the area extend their hours.

Winnipeg’s Exchange District is a national historic site which boasts many historic spots and heritage buildings, dating from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many of these buildings now house artist studios.

While its is exciting to discover new artists and see their work, much of the appeal of First Fridays centres around the interaction with the artists. A good friend and my daughter accompanied me on my most recent First Friday evening. Regular readers of my blog know I usually include a number of photographs with each post. Because many artists do not like people photographing their work, I choose not to even ask about taking photos and instead concentrated on talking to the artists and viewing their works. If you are interested in seeing the art, you may want to mark one of the future First Fridays on your calendar.

We started at Cre8ry, a shared studio space, where artists rent working space and create amidst the company of other artists. The main exhibition area housed a show by Erik Baker entitled Imagine All The People, a show featuring portraits of famous persons. In the various studio rooms, we found a number of artists and a variety of art types. Mixed media, glass work, jewelry, pottery, and paintings.

In one small studio, the artist asked us which of her pieces hanging on the wall we were drawn to most and why. It was an interesting way to engage us and get us thinking about her work. I gravitated toward her geometric paintings. It may have been the colours which pulled me in as much as the shapes. My daughter favoured a softer nature and sky scene. And my friend picked yet a different favourite. The artist then directed us to three of her paintings, where she had challenged herself to work only with her palette knife. She said it had been tempting at times to pick up her paintbrush, but the palette knife gave the painting an entirely different feel.

We learned than an artist in one of the other spaces was from a town over an hour away. She maintained studio space here and attended openings to increase exposure.

In the rugged basement of another building, we found an artist co-op. The room at one end was occupied by a sculptor who used pieces of scrap metal and junk. With all the bits and pieces in his studio, it looked a bit like a junk yard itself. He was not present that evening. Another artist in the co-op showed us around and pointed out the sculptor’s latest works, an interesting collection of figures based on Greek mythology. My friend asked if the sculptor drew his designs on paper before starting to create. The answer was no. The artist showing us around said he’d seen the sculptor sit and stare for hours at the stuff in his studio, almost as if overwhelmed with the material to work with.

The middle section of the space was used by sculptors working in stone. A display highlighted the stages in the process, from the raw stone to initial chiseling to final sanding and smoothing. We were told the most common stone used is soapstone because it is the easiest to work with. We asked two of the sculptors if they had a design in mind before they started or if they let the stone speak to them as they worked. The answer was a bit of both. After learning more about the stone sculpting process, I have an increased respect for the amount of work involved and understand the price tags associated with this type of art.

Artists working in clay occupied the room at the other end of the basement space. Amid their work on display was a collection of expressive faces.

In addition to artist studios, traditional galleries were also open. Some offered snacks and wine. We stumbled upon a special show by a talented, abstract artist using vivid colours and geometric forms. One gallery even expanded into the neighbouring alley, where art hung on building exterior walls, snacks sat on tables in the centre, and a musician performed at one end.

First Fridays in the Exchange

The First Fridays website lists which studios are open on a given Friday. The tour is self-guided and free. The Winnipeg Free Press News Cafe hosts dinners and moderated talks by a local artist on First Fridays. There is a charge for that and reservations are required. There are a number of other cafes in the area, where one can stop for refreshment before, during, or after the tour.

Have you attend First Fridays or a similar artist open-house event? What did you like best?

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  1. Living in the Exchange, I should take in First Fridays more often. I’ve been a couple of times and enjoyed it, but I always seem to lose track of when it’s happening. How can that be? ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. Deb, I lose track of when it’s happening too and can’t believe it has been several years between attending.

  2. This is such an interesting way to actually learn more about art. Directly from the source. It’s one thing to tour a gallery (one of my favorite pastimes) but I do love to speak to the artists and see what inspires them, and they go about their craft. Fun!

    1. Jacquie, I like attending with an artist friend of mine. She asks such interesting questions and I learn way more than if I was alone.

  3. I especially love contemporary art and the way it can make me shift my perspective as I view something familiar in a different way. Actually meeting and speaking to the artists in an open house would be very interesting and a way to possibly understand the thought process and creativity that goes into an art design. Anita

    1. Anita, as a writer I am very interested in the creative process and it is nice to take to artists in all mediums about that.

  4. In my area, they have first Fridays over the summer. The artwork is always amazing and I love summer the local arts. My brother is a great artist too and does showings in his area as well. Thanks for sharing. It looks like you really enjoyed yourself.

    1. Sabrina, first Fridays is a great way to discover new artists and artwork. Do you ever go to first Fridays with your artist brother? The artist’s perspective adds another dimension to the event.

  5. I love first or second or (Here it’s fourth) Friday art events. So much fun especially if you know some of the artists. Great way to get to feel part of a city.

    1. Beth, you’re right about getting a feel for a part of a city. I’ve been on studio tours in other parts of the city and there is a unique to each location.

  6. When I lived in Denver, Colorado, I used to go to First Friday art events frequently. They have several going on simultaneously in different parts of the city. In addition to art, many of the venues have live music, along with wine and finger foods, during the First Friday events. Several cities around The States also have galleries which host Third Thursday art events in lieu of First Friday. I always had fun and connected with lots of folks in my community by attending these art events. Thanks for your article and the wonderful photos you’ve shared.

  7. I always enjoy artist studio tours. Most of the cities that have events like that near me do it once a year. Would be nice to have it come up every month. There is a similar event in Old San Juan, although it might be First Thursday, rather than First Friday.

    1. Ken, there are a few specialized studio tours in and around Winnipeg sponsored by artist groups that occur only once or twice a year. For a monthly frequency, I think there needs to be a concentration of studios willing to participate (and possibly enough so that some can opt out of certain months if they choose).

  8. Hi Donna, when I saw your opening picture I thought how beautiful Winnipeg is – that alone should be promoted more. Anyway to the First Fridays event, i think that’s a wonderful idea. I imagine it would be easy to spend a day there talking to all that talent. I liked the story about the woman who asked you what you were drawn to the most and all three of you came up with different views. That’s the great thing about art, isn’t it? It becomes so personal. Thanks for sharing this.

    1. Lenie, Winnipeg has gone thru a real resurgence of late. We have a brand new national Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the Convention Centre has just been doubled in space, we have a new football stadium, lovely baseball park and new downtown entertainment centre (the MTS Centre.) You should come and have a look!

  9. I’ve been to Winnipeg, but only overnight for a travel show so it’s nice to learn a bit more about this beautiful area. I love thing like weekly art shows – we have several like that here in Maui and it’s a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Congrats to you, Donna, for taking in so many great things in Winnipeg this summer. I’ve been meaning to do that First Friday thing for a long time, but still haven’t made it. Thx for sharing your insights.

    1. Doreen, I think you’d enjoy First Friday. I know there are also lots of artists in the Interlake area around you and the Wave Artist Tour is coming up this weekend. I’ve attended that a couple of times and really enjoyed it.

  11. This is such an interesting idea! I love seeing artists’ studios for a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their process. It always inspires me as an artist to get back to work!

    1. Meredith, It’s always great when we, whether we are artists or not, find something to inspire us or renew our interest.

  12. It sounds as though Winnipeg has a vibrant arts scene. My father was an artist. If he attended an event such as this, he would have been there forever as he loved chatting with other artists about their work, particularly potters.

    1. Suzanne, based on what I saw the artists would have been only too happy to send time chatting with your father.

  13. First Friday sounds like a great idea. It would be great if they did one here in Groningen. We have a lot of artists and they set up art “routes” to their studios, but only once or twice a year. Doing it more often would make it more of an institution which would mean more people would take part!

    1. Rachel, it’s nice that Groningen artists set up art routes, even if it is only once or twice a year. I agree doing it more often would make it more of an institution. Increased frequency means more commitment required from the artists. If it increased participation and visibility and ultimately sales, I think it would be worth it.

  14. never been to Art Studio Tours. I will have to ask Google if there is one happening in London very soon.
    This kind of event must be nice, very informative and a more interesting way to learn more about Art
    Thanks for Sharing Donna. Off to google now LOL!

  15. I think it’s fun that because you couldn’t take photos, you really concentrated on the conversations with the artists–although knowing you, you would have done that anyhow. It sounds like a wonderful way to spend a Friday evening.

    1. Rose Mary, there may be a lesson there to apply to other situations. I take a lot of photographs, but I need to put the camera down sometimes to truly experience things.

  16. When I lived in Kansas City I went to most of the “First Friday’s” it was a great way to discover new artists and they had wonderful food. I’ve been to Winnipeg one time and froze my butt off. I wish I had gone during September.

    1. Pamela, September is a good time to visit Winnipeg. June, July and August are great too, because there are a lot of summer festivals and activities taking place.

  17. The First Fridays event looked pretty fun. When I lived in Savannah, GA they had a First Friday event on River Street that was pretty nice. They had art, music and fireworks.