Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

It's our Winnipeg, for art's sake

Public pieces build sense of belonging

  • Print

Ask any Winnipegger what their favourite piece of public art is and the response will likely be a confused look and the question, "Winnipeg has public art?"

Ours is an artistic community. With only two per cent of Canada's population, we have 12 per cent of its musicians. We have the country's oldest civic art gallery, French-language theatre, English regional theatre and dance company. We are home to a renowned symphony and numerous artistic festivals. Despite this creative heritage, we have fallen behind other major Canadian cities in our funding for and implementation of great public art.

North American cities today are turning to public art as a means of defining and enhancing urban identity and character. The visual appeal of a community can play a significant role in cultivating civic pride and emotional attachment from the people who live in them. It is human character to seek out physical beauty in the things that surround us and in the places we live. Public art that is authentic, stimulating and visually appealing can contribute to this sense of public well-being. Although not plentiful, Winnipeg does have some inspiring examples of urban art that illustrate the benefits of this type of economic investment in our communities.

Effective public art can help to articulate a shared sense of place and belonging within a city or neighbourhood. It can celebrate cultural diversity and unite social groups, expressing the history, traditions and identities unique to that community.

A brilliant example of an installation that accomplishes these goals is the Oodena Circle at The Forks. Eight rusted steel armatures that relate to wind, sun and the stars rise into the sky, defining the spatial boundaries of the plaza and acknowledging its cultural history. The site has been embraced by aboriginal people as a place of celebration, bringing the city's cultural groups together, elevating social awareness and fostering an emotional connection to each other and to the city.

An installation of 38 interactive light posts on a sloped piece of land in Central Park, called DIY Field, exemplifies how great public art can unite and rejuvenate a community. Once a crime-filled urban space, Central Park is now the pride of a growing and vibrant immigrant neighbourhood in downtown Winnipeg. Any evening, in any season, children can be seen running through the grid of posts excitedly changing the coloured lights as they pass through. The art activates the park in the evenings, improving safety and contributing to a renewed sense of public ownership that has allowed it to become a cultural and social focal point in the neighbourhood.

On an urban scale, public art can improve civic identity, helping to redefine a city's image, locally and abroad. The Old Market Square Cube Stage and Esplanade Riel Bridge serve as two examples of functional civic infrastructure that elevate themselves through creative design to iconic pieces of public art. Both have come to symbolize Winnipeg as a place of imagination and creativity, celebrating a new wave of architectural and artistic development that has begun to redefine our civic image abroad.

Public art can have educational value, such as the inscribed artwork on the guardrails of the new Osborne Bridge telling the history of the area. It can also simply be a fanciful urban landmark that transforms a public space into a public place. As an example, at the Millennium Library, a new 10-metre-high stainless steel sculpture in the shape of a container draws attention and gives definition to a newly renovated urban plaza that has long been forgotten behind the walls of the library's parkade.

Recognizing all of these intrinsic benefits, in 2004 then-mayor Glen Murray established Winnipeg's Public Art Program.

Managed by the Winnipeg Arts Council, the program is funded by a yearly capital grant from the City of Winnipeg that is subject to the annual budget-approval process.

In cities such as Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa, public arts funding is not a line item in the civic budget, but is tied to development growth in a strategy called 'per cent for art.'

For every infrastructure project financed by the civic government, including roads, sewers and buildings, one per cent of the construction cost is put aside to finance public art.

This funding model has resulted in a greater level of arts investment in Winnipeg's rival cities. In Toronto, the percentage for art model is expanded to include private development. Engaging the corporate sector has resulted in per capita arts funding that is five times higher than in Winnipeg and has cemented Toronto's reputation as a culturally rich city.

Somewhat lost in the inhospitable pedestrian environment of Portage and Main, three stunning bronze sculptures at the base of the Richardson Building stand as examples of what can be achieved in our own city when the corporate sector is engaged.

Winnipeg's rivals all recognize the value of public art as an investment that contributes to the establishment of a vibrant, beautiful and creative urban environment that will be attractive to those economic drivers.

Working to align our public arts funding from government and corporate sources with that of other Canadian cities would strengthen our artistic community and enhance our already impressive set of cultural assets, ensuring Winnipeg remains artistically vibrant and economically competitive in today's creative economy.

Growing our collection of urban art would inject an element of warmth and lively artistic expression into our monochromatic northern city, to be celebrated even during the coldest and darkest days of the year.


Brent Bellamy is senior design architect for Number Ten Architectural Group.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 3, 2012 B5


Updated on Monday, December 3, 2012 at 4:34 PM CST: Corrects photo caption

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Key of Bart - Four Little Games

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • PHIL.HOSSACK@FREEPRESS.MB.CA 101130-Winnipeg Free Press Columns of light reach skyward to the stars above Sanford Mb Tuesday night. The effect is produced by streetlights refracting through ice crystals suspended in the air on humid winter nights. Stand Up.....
  • Water lilys are reflected in the pond at the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden Tuesday afternoon. Standup photo. Sept 11,  2012 (Ruth Bonneville/Winnipeg Free Press)

View More Gallery Photos

About Brent Bellamy

Brent Bellamy is senior design architect for Number Ten Architectural Group.


Are you concerned about the number of homicides so far this year?

View Results

Ads by Google