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The future is now: imagine Winnipeg in 7 years

Festival of ideas asks attendees to envision our world seven years from today

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Every day consumers create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data, so much that 90 per cent of the world's data was created between 2011-13, according to an IBM study.

Is this increasing volume of digital information, dubbed Big Data, heralding a scientific bonanza or an Orwellian nightmare? Can you hear any message through all that static?

These are some of the questions to be discussed at March 20's opening debate of the second annual Spur Festival, a four-day celebration of politics, art, ideas and change. It is the first of five Spur festivals -- up from three in 2013 -- taking place across the country this year.

The kickoff session, titled Signal vs. Noise, is a particularly timely subject for the would we live in, says festival artistic producer Nick Hutcheson.

"We're contributing a gross amount of noise as a society, as physical noise but also just in terms of volume of information," Hutcheson says during a telephone interview from Toronto. "We wanted to talk about that theme and how one finds the signal amidst all that's noise that's being created."

The commentators are George Prochnik, author of In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise, New York interviewer and curator Paul Holdengr§ber, and University of Manitoba ethicist Arthur Schafer.

The four-day event brings together doers and thinkers -- artists, politicians, strategists and academics -- for a spirited discussion that might stimulate change. Besides the public forums, the fest presents book readings, film screenings, a literary cabaret and a Forks walking tour.

A major theme this year is a seven-year look-ahead at our city, nation and world. In 2021, will heritage buildings still be part of Winnipeg's revitalized downtown? What will become of the relationship between First Nations and the federal government? What's the future of the Canadian North?

"Most people, when they think about a festival, they think of a presenting a festival like the folk festival or the new music festival," says Helen Walsh, festival director and publisher of the Literary Review of Canada. "For us, it's an ideas festival. 'Ideas' is kind of ethereal word. What does it mean? I think of the festival as a way to get people to come together and think about the place in which they live."

For This City in Seven Years, the speakers making a seven-minute pitch of their vision include Brent Bellamy, architecture and urban design columnist; architecture critic and lecturer Sotirios Kotoulas; Scott Stephanson, vice-president of Longboat Development Corporation; and University of Winnipeg professor Dr. Jaqueline McLeod Rogers.

Walsh says that Winnipeg, of all the cities hosting Spur festivals, conducted the liveliest deliberations about what should be the subject of its city session and even who should be speaking at it. It shows how much people care about Winnipeg's future, she says.

The culture content features readings by novelists Trevor Ferguson on March 22 and Claire Cameron on March 23. The Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre will host a Saturday morning panel led by Ins Choi, the Toronto playwright of the national hit comedy Kim's Convenience currently running on the mainstage. Choi will talk about how the lack of opportunities for Asian-Canadian actors spurred him to write the play. He will be joined by Alix Sobler and Kevin Klassen, two local actors experienced at creating their own stage roles.

Theatre by the River presents Wine and Words as part of Spur at the Winnipeg Art Gallery on March 20 at 8:30. The event features local performers, including Trish Cooper and Gary Jarvis, doing dramatized readings of unpublished works by Winnipeg writers such as Guy Maddin and Governor General's Award-winning poet Katherena Vermette.

On March 22, filmmaker and political activists John Greyson and Peter Mettler will discuss their work and offer some insights on how to make political movies. Greyson was arrested in Cairo in August en route to the Gaza Strip and jailed in Cairo's notorious Tora jail for 50 days before he was released in October.

The inaugural Spur Festival drew about 3,000 people in Winnipeg and Walsh says this year's goal is 4,500. The sessions will also be made into a weekly podcast that begins in July. Last year 22,000 tuned in.

Success is also gauged by many other measures.

"Because we're a festival with a change mandate," says Walsh, "we also want to look at how we engage youth and include next-generation leaders so the kind of opportunities we provide them is a real important aspect for us."


For the festival schedule and more information go to

How should Winnipeg change in the next seven years? from Literary Review of Canada on Vimeo.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 20, 2014 C3


Updated on Thursday, March 20, 2014 at 9:17 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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