Art worth rapt focus on rapid bus corridor


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A giant copper kettle. A wheel carved out of Tyndall stone. Gold-coloured sugar beets made of fibreglass.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/10/2020 (731 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A giant copper kettle. A wheel carved out of Tyndall stone. Gold-coloured sugar beets made of fibreglass.

These are some of the public-art discoveries waiting to be found along the Southwest Transitway that winds its way through south Winnipeg to the University of Manitoba.

The Winnipeg Arts Council commissioned seven works to be installed along the 11.2 kilometres and seven stations along the newest section of the bus rapid transit corridor, which Winnipeg Transit has dubbed the Blue Line. Buses began travelling on the route in April.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES The Rooster Town Kettle is named for the Métis community forcibly removed from the area in 1951.

“I think throughout this pandemic where we’ve been so isolated, we realize that people need art in their lives and it helps to make sense of these strange times,” says tamara rae biebrich, Winnipeg Arts Council’s senior project manager for public art. “There are so many different works and opportunities to engage with them in different ways.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic has seen a reduction in the number of Winnipeg Transit passengers, the Transitway also has a biking and walking path beside it, which has allowed those who have sought some fresh air and physical activity to check out the works as well. The arts council also provided guided walking or biking tours of public art installations during the summer. The October tours have had to be cancelled, biebrich says, owing to the code-orange restrictions which went into effect on Sept. 28.

An alternative to the tours is a new app, Winnipeg Public Arts Works, which the arts council created for Apple and Android users. It was released on Wednesday and it provides maps and information about 64 different public art installations around the city. People can use it to create their own self-guided art tours, says biebrich, who will be joining the Free Press’s Alison Gillmor in tonight’s free virtual Art Talk to discuss Public Art in the Time of COVID as part of the monthly First Friday event.

“When everything shut down in the spring, we trying to think how could we help people experience public space in socially distant ways,” she says.

“We thought, now’s the time we create an app where people could have a self-guided experience, go find a place to take a walk by themselves, or to take their kids or go for a bike ride with a friend.”

Some of the works along the new transitway serve as remembrances or reconciliations of dark historic episodes in Winnipeg’s and Canada’s history.

Perhaps the most noticeable piece on the Blue Line route is called Rooster Town Kettle; a work by Winnipeg Métis artist Ian August, it’s a giant, copper-coloured stainless steel pot that sits beside the new Beaumont Station. It gets its name from the Métis community that lived there until 1951, when they were forcibly removed and their houses destroyed by the city as Winnipeg expanded southward.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Tensai, at Plaza Station, recalls Japanese-Canadians who were subjected to forced labour, harvesting sugar beets for the Manitoba Sugar Co.

“It’s really about remembering the history of the Métis road-allowance community that existed in that area that was displaced for the development of the Grant Park campus,” biebrich says, adding Rooster Town Kettle represents the warmth and community spirit by the 500 people who once lived in Rooster Town, as well as the lack of access to clean drinking water in many First Nations across Canada.

Another work that recognizes the past is at Plaza Station, just north of the University of Manitoba. It’s an installation of three golden-coloured sugar beets by British Columbia artists Cindy Mochizuki and Kelty Miyoshi McKinnon titled Tensai, which focuses on the internment of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War.

“They’re speaking to the history of Japanese-Canadians that were displaced from B.C. to Manitoba and Alberta and were forced into labour… to work here harvesting sugar beets for the Manitoba Sugar Company,” biebrich says.

It’s no coincidence the installation is at Plaza Station. The new bus stop is close to where the Manitoba Sugar Company’s processing plant was built in 1940, she says.

“They’ve really approached it in an accessible way where they have these oversize sugar beets,” she says. “There’s (a watercolour) that’s integrated into the bus shelter itself that shows the families and the different generations of family members. Kids, grandparents and parents working the oversized leaves, speaking to the resilience of the families within that difficult situation.”

Others on the Blue Line include two works by Winnipeg artist Jeanette Johns: Furrows on the Land (The Wheel), a wheel-shaped Tyndall stone sculpture at Seel Station; and Furrows on the Land (The Field), a steel work on the McGillivray Boulevard bus overpass. Salt Fat Sugar & Your Water is Safe, a steel installation by Toronto artist Bill Burns is located at Chevrier Station; (Un)Still Life with Spoked Wheels, a steel and glass work by Winnipeg’s Warren Carther can be seen at Chancellor Station; and Métis Land Use, a mixed-media piece by Tiffany Shaw-Collinge that uses fritted glass and poles is located at Markham Station.

Winnipeg Arts Council’s new app allows people to create self-guided art tours.

Coming soon elsewhere in the city will be a concrete and aluminum art installation called Four Flowers, by Winnipeg’s Michael Dumontier. It will be available for viewing at the Cornish Library at 20 West Gate once building renovations there are completed. The 105-year-old library — one of two Carnegie libraries in Winnipeg — is scheduled to open in November.


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Alan Small

Alan Small

Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.

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