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Get a life!

Free Culture Days event encompasses a vast variety of horizon-broadening experiences

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Create a communal painting in Osborne Village. Draw on the Winnipeg Art Gallery walls. Search for hidden love letters in the Exchange District. Pick a political fight at the Marxist Argument Booth at The Forks.

Those are just a few options for celebrating the third annual Culture Days Manitoba, Sept. 28-30. There are about 255 more to choose from in Winnipeg and communities across the province this weekend -- and they're all free.

Culture Days is a nation-wide, volunteer-driven weekend of free activities "to raise the awareness, accessibility, participation and engagement of all Canadians in the cultural life of their communities."

In 2011, Culture Days Manitoba attracted nearly 30,000 participants to some 250 activities at venues throughout the province over the three-day weekend. This year's expanded event offers more than 260 activities -- everything from a pop-up film festival to a Moonlight Petting Zoo where gallery-goers can "pet the art."

Included in the weekend is the third annual Nuit Blanche, a dusk-to-dawn arts extravaganza on Saturday that will see the Winnipeg Art Gallery and the Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art open their doors to the public from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. (Stella's Café @ Plug In will be open all night with special menu items.) Other venues in the downtown, the Exchange and St. Boniface will also feature special programming.

Free shuttle-bus service will be available to transport visitors among Nuit Blanche venues.

Last year, more than 30 Nuit Blanche events attracted around 7,500 participants to the three zones over a 12-hour period, project manager Kevin Walters said in a press release.

The majority of those people -- close to 5,000 by some estimates -- made it to the WAG, which saw five-deep lineups snaking around the building, recalls Anna Wiebe, head of education.

This year's crowds could be even bigger given that it's the WAG's 100th year, she says, and the art gallery has a full day and night of free activities planned to celebrate its centennial.

"We're having a birthday party for ourselves," says Wiebe "So it's going to be almost 24 hours of free WAG access."

The family-friendly Centennial Birthday Party runs 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and will feature gallery tours, performances by children's entertainer Al Simmons and magician Brian Glow, art-making workshops, face painting, games on the rooftop, birthday cupcakes and the 100-Year Skip-Off. At 3:30 p.m., 100 people with skipping ropes will assemble on Memorial Boulevard and simultaneously complete 100 skips.

Nuit Blanche kicks off at 7 p.m. with the public opening of Winnipeg Now, the WAG's "pulse-taking exhibition" of 13 of our city's "hottest and brightest artists currently shining on the national and international scene."

The artists chosen by a selection committee from across Canada, include: KC Adams; Daniel Barrow; Paul Butler; Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan; Michael Dudeck; Marcel Dzama; Sarah Anne Johnson; Rodney LaTourelle; Guy Maddin; Kent Monkman; Dominique Rey; and Jennifer Stillwell. Each artist will present a new body of work not previously seen by Winnipeg audiences. Art critics Meeka Walsh and Robert Enright are guest-curating the exhibition.

"It's the first major exhibition of our centennial year," Wiebe says, "and it features 13 artists who have called Winnipeg home over the course of their career, whether or not they still live here. They have an affinity for this place."

When they first step into the gallery, visitors will encounter -- and will be able to control -- a new interactive sound-and-light installation from local media whizzes PO-MO Inc. (short for Post-Modern).

Synthetica is controlled entirely by gestures of the audience, who, according to the program, will be able to "build a musical machine in the style of Rube Goldberg."

This year, in anticipation of longer-than-ever lineups, the WAG will have live bands on the ramp to entertain those waiting to get inside. Four different bands will play between 8:30 p.m. and 1:15 a.m.

The art gallery will also present its first-ever Nuit Blanche rooftop fashion show, titled Luminosity. Local designers will showcase looks from their fall and winter collections, as well as new apparel from the WAG shop, against a midnight sky.

Elsewhere in Winnipeg, the 2012 bilingual Culture Days weekend will also feature a variety of other art exhibitions, as well as collective art-making projects, screenings, concerts, dance performances, storytelling events, behind-the-scenes tours of the city's cultural hot spots, and workshops in salad-making, pinhole photography, martial arts, line dance, Cajun fiddle and more.

Visit www.culturedays.ca for a complete schedule of Culture Days and Nuit Blanche activities. Meanwhile, here are a few highlights:

Happy feet

DANCERS of all stripes, professionals and amateurs alike, will showcase their moves Sunday when the Royal Winnipeg Ballet throws open its doors for Dance Downtown, an afternoon of free performances and demos.

The open-house event runs from 1p.m. to 4 p.m. in the lobby and courtyards of the RWB building, located at 380 Graham Ave., and in the grand foyer of the Manitoba Hydro Building directly across the street.

Besides RWB company and student dancers, the event will show off the fancy footwork of Winnipeg's Contemporary Dancers, NAfro Dance Productions, Verba Ukrainian Dance Company, Summer Bear Dance Troupe, and choreographer Stephanie Ballard's Landscape Dancers. They will perform in the Manitoba Hydro Building courtyard.

Free demonstration classes in ballet and creative movement will run throughout the afternoon for youngsters ages three and up. The kiddies will be able to try on ballet costumes and shoes, and there will be other family-friendly entertainment, such as face-painting and interactive storytelling.

Dance Downtown will also include a special performance by the Manitoba Opera, featuring soprano Lara Ciekiewicz.

For more information, go to www.rwb.org/dancedowtown

Return to romance

REMEMBER the pre-Internet era, when courtship and declarations of love were private matters rather than Facebook updates? When a love letter was intended for the beloved's eyes only?

Winnipeg artist Wanda Luna believes social media is subjecting romance to "a slow and agonizing death" and she wants us to rethink our modern expressions of love.

In a project called Between You and Me, Luna will scatter anonymous, handwritten love letters -- some she wrote, others she solicited from the public -- throughout the Exchange District, downtown and St. Boniface for passersby to find.

"With this installation, you can't 'like' with the click of the mouse," she says. "This is a moment to savour and ponder by yourself."

The public are also welcome to scatter their own love letters for others to stumble upon.

Bands on the big screen

SEE your favourite homegrown musicians and new local bands get larger-than-life treatment when more than 40 Manitoba music videos take over the IMAX screen at Portage Place on Saturday, from 6 p.m. to midnight.

Once an hour, a select music video will be featured on the 22-metre-high screen, along with an unplugged performance by the artist and a Q&A with the artist and the video director. The lobby of the theatre will have a licensed bar.

There will be live performances from indie-rock upstarts Cannon Bros., experimental folk/pop outfit From Giants, singer/songwriter Cat Jahnke, and alt popsters Enjoy Your Pumas.

Videos featuring such diverse artists as Imaginary Cities, Chic Gamine, The Magnificent 7s, Les Jupes, Royal Canoe, Nathan, Romi Mayes, and others will screen between the performances.

Visit manitobamusic.com for a complete schedule.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 27, 2012 D1

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