Underdog City

“This may surprise you but Winnipeg is not so bad.”
-Glen Murray, 2007

Is it possible that this isolated burg populated by mosquitos and bargain hunters now boasts a Michael Kors store, a (dormant) NHL team and will soon have an Ikea? To many citizens this is a turning point for this city’s fragile identity.  The once thriving economy of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century produced the architecture of the Exchange district and magnificent Banker’s Row on Main Street, now a Heritage site. “All roads lead to Winnipeg” trumpeted the Chicago Herald in 1911. Later events such as the opening of the Panama Canal, WW1, and the “dirty thirties” ended the boom and Winnipeg lost the title of “Chicago of the North”, and arguably its sense of self.

If not the economic centre it once was, Winnipeg can surely claim the title “Cultural Capital of Canada”. It has been argued that harsh winters sparked an intense creative fight against boredom.  According to economist Richard Florida,  a strong creative class composed of knowledge workers, intellectuals, and artists stimulates economic growth. Winnipeg is blessed with more that its share of this demographic as evidenced by its thriving artistic community of theatre, dance, music, and fine arts. Can they be credited with this return to prosperity?

   Winnipeg has the oldest civic art gallery in Canada. The WAG began in 1912 in the Industrial Bureau on Main and Water. Now in an iconic modernist building, the gallery’s exhibit “Winnipeg Now” showcases 13 significant contemporary artists. The show at the neighbouring  Plug In gallery, “My Winnipeg: Winter Kept us Warm”, features artists whose interpretations of a complicated city full of myth and ambiguity help to explain our ambivalence.  

    These mixed feelings were dissected in the critically acclaimed film “My Winnipeg”  by hometown boy Guy Maddin.   His “love-hate letter” to his city is a docu-fantasy about the inability to escape. Winnipeg, the narrator points out, has the largest number of sleepwalkers per capita.

Subconscious City, dedicated to “those who choose to remain”, examines the hidden underpinnings – vacant lots, forgotten communities, hidden gems and Winnipeg’s power to shape our identity.

Winnipeg Love Hate juxtaposes photographs of the city’s best buildings with some of the more forlorn, tragic, and repulsive images of our city. The foreword “To explore Winnipeg can be depressing, but it can also give one the sense that they have been let in on a mysterious and beautiful secret.” When you are asking yourself why you live here, log onto Bryan Scott’s blog for some photographs that will remind you.

   For a field guide to help you explore more galleries, public art, and artists read My Winnipeg; a guide of the artistic scene.  And take advantage of First Fridays in the Exchange when galleries hold open houses to bring together artists, artist run centres, galleries, businesses and the public for a greater understanding, appreciation and promotion of the arts in Winnipeg.

 Jane

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