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THE NEXT 7 DAYS:     EVENTS (20)     +     OPENINGS (2)     +     DEADLINES (9)     +     CLOSINGS (14)
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Steven Leyden Cochrane
The Creative Placemaking Challenge
August 19, 2014

With the Humidex lurching towards forty, Friday was the perfect day to spend an afternoon exploring the Exchange District’s shaded tangle of side streets and covered alleys. Co-organized by Urban Idea and the Winnipeg Arts Council, the Creative Placemaking Challenge invited ten teams of artists, architects, designers et al to produce pop-up installations exploring the underutilized thoroughfares’ potential to become sites of creative engagement. The street fair ambiance; breathless, corporate-style promotional language; and profusion of cameras have become familiar features of this kind of event, but the premise is a laudable one (even if the ensuing mash-up of consumer-oriented spectacle and Situationist-inspired urbanism makes my head swim).

Emily Bews & Ashley James, DayGazer

Given constraints of time, space, and audience engagement, simpler interventions generally fared best. Plain Projects, a landscape architecture firm, just blew bubbles in their alley, and it was lovely. Emily Bews and Ashley James laid down sod and strung up of glow-in-the-dark plastic stars, and it was similarly precious but pleasant.

Ken Gregory and Nicole Shimonek deployed an array of motion sensors, motors, lights, and mirrors to send a projected alley cat chasing after a red laser dot – the skittish movements and improvised electronics lending the otherwise whimsical gesture vague paramilitary overtones. Artist-curator Theo Sims and poet Jenn Angela Lopes set up an abject row of vendor stalls in another alley, “near two old fur company buildings.” The wares comprised a thin selection of t-shirts featuring disjointed snatches of text in English and what might have been Michif or Cree. Lacking context, the installation seemed to invoke area history, if only elliptically, teasing at goings-on still underway (“Below debate / in 2011 / with tumult”).

Other projects tackled issues of infrastructure and amenities to varying effect. The duo of Christopher F.E. Beauvilain and Marc Arnould employed clever stagecraft and forced perspective to construct an illusory “Public Pool,” complete with three-storey diving boards – then promptly killed the fun with a snide, accusatory “public notice” announcing the alley’s return to squalor effective the following day.

Nicole Jowett, Janna Barkman, & Nick Turnbull, Your Garden

Lorna Parashin and Moe Yusim built a fleet of hammocks that offered a welcoming vantage for live musical performances. Intentionally or not, the high-visibility orange swings ended up highlighting the conspicuous absence of benches (and other surfaces a person might be tempted sleep on) elsewhere in the neighbourhood. An oasis of edible and flowering plants in the heart of a notorious “food desert” and a highlight of the event, Your Garden by Nicole Jowett, Janna Barkman, and Nick Turnbull presented a tantalizingly attainable vision of weekend markets providing access to fresh, affordable produce.

I’m embarrassed to confess that I don’t think I’d passed through or even stopped to register any of the ten sites before Friday, and the studio I’ve kept for five years overlooks one of them. If Creative Placemaking (or however you care to brand it) can help disrupt patterns of use or patterns of thought, and help people imagine new ways of engaging with their surroundings, then it’s an idea worth repeating. Provided, that is, we strive to “make a place” for everyone.

Urban Idea:
The Creative Placemaking Challenge took place on August 15

Steven Leyden Cochrane is an artist, writer, and educator based in Winnipeg, where he contributes weekly exhibition reviews to the Free Press. He is Akimbo’s Winnipeg correspondent and can be followed @svlc_ on Twitter.



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