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Making positive connections Winnipeg Public Library’s first makers-in-residence share unique skills

An abstract rapper and a letterpress artist are the Winnipeg Library’s first ever makers-in-residence.

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An abstract rapper and a letterpress artist are the Winnipeg Library’s first ever makers-in-residence.

Musician and producer Osani Balkaran, and artist and printmaker Sean McLachlan, are running activities from now until the end of March at public library branches across the city.

The inaugural program offers visitors a new way to engage with library spaces and resources.

Sean McLachlan will be leading workshops to make postcards using his custom portable letterpress studio. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Each maker-in-residence will conduct weekly drop-in activities as well as longer workshops, with a focus on passing on their unique skills to attendees.

There will be three workshops per maker; two aimed at adults and open to all, and one aimed at youth which will have age limitations.

“We have been working towards establishing a Maker-in-Residence program since the ideaMILL makerspace first opened in 2018. MiR programs are not uncommon — there are many examples of similar programs in library makerspaces all across North America,” says Sophie Firby, administrative co-ordinator of virtual services with Winnipeg Public Library.

The workshops are intended to be “intimate learning experiences,” Firby explains, where each attendee can hear and see how the maker works, get personal mentorship and guidance from them, and use the skills demonstrated to try making something of their own.

Capacity will be fairly small with a maximum of 15 participants per workshop.

“They are not ‘follow my instructions and learn how to do this specific craft’ classes — you can get that kind of instruction on YouTube,” she said.

“Makerspaces are intended to be idea-sharing, mentorship spaces, where co-learning and skill-sharing are the driving force. Bringing in skilled makers who are passionate about sharing their craft and have extensive experience to share aligns with the mission of the space and helps animate it as a place of learning.”

McLachlan's linocut printmaking workshops will teach visitors how to carve their own images to create relief prints from start to finish. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

The call for makers was put out last October across art organizations in the city, and the library’s social media channels. There were more than 30 applications received which were sifted through by a team of city staff before the final decision was made.

Full-time musician Balkaran, 23, considers libraries “safe spaces.” As a teenager, he spent his after-school hours and weekends there, using the computers. For him, this role is an opportunity to work on his passion in a place that he loves.

“When I saw the application, I thought it was an amazing idea. I like libraries. I spent a lot of my youth in downtown Winnipeg, and I would use Cornish Library, Millennium and Harvey A Smith.”

Living in the city centre in an apartment with his mother and going to school in the south end of Winnipeg, he says he often felt “uneasy, timid or nervous”.

“The library was a place I could go to after school to meet my mom. When I was in there I could have peace of mind; I felt comfortable, not judged or anything. I felt like I was seen for who I was. Amongst all the books I was surrounded by, I felt like the world was at my fingertips.”

He conducted his first drop-in session on Monday at Louis Riel Library. During Learn About Beat-Making, he taught interested visitors how to make beats using downloadable software such as GarageBand, Groovebox and n-Track, on phones, laptops and tablets.

“Monday was a pretty good test run. I had an idea of what I needed and what I am going to need for the next one,” he said.

McLachlan will encourage people to write postcards to their future selves. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

“It was nice to talk to people as they walk in and see who was interested. The library has a big age range, and it was really cool to see people from all ages use the technology.”

Balkaran, who has been making music for the last decade, says he enjoys working with the community. As a teenager he joined Green Team Winnipeg, working with arts organizations such as Graffiti Gallery and Studio 393.

“I like showing people how to make beats using software. Beats are something I am really passionate about. They are a really creative way to help you translate what’s going on inside your head without you having to play keys or a guitar,” he explains.

For McLachlan, the sessions and workshops are a chance bring his knowledge to the table and show others what can be done with it.

He will encourage people to write postcards to their future selves, with a glimpse into their current lives in the city during his drop-in sessions.

“At my Design a Postcard session I will be helping people make their own postcards and collecting stories to include in a postcard time capsule that will live on in the library, like the postcard collections of Rob McInnes and Martin Berman.”

McLachlan's custom portable letterpress studio. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

His linocut printmaking workshops will teach visitors how to carve their own images to create relief prints, taking them through the process of how to create a series from start to finish.

McLachlan hopes his sessions interest a wide range of Winnipeggers.

“Everyone from kids to seniors to newcomers to those who have lived here their whole life; my goal is to help them collect a message to look back on in the years to come. From how they navigated the pandemic to what it means to be a Winnipegger at this moment.”

Both makers are hoping to conduct joint sessions later on in the series.

“I am hoping to do something together with Sean for the final presentation,” Balkaran says. “I want both disciplines to come together.”

“We are hoping to overlap our time once we are able to be back at the Millennium Library,” McLachlan confirms. “We have talked about how we can collaborate once we are able to.”

The library plans to keep the program running in the future, Firby said, similar to its Writer-in-Residence program.

The postcard possibilities are seemingly limitless. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

“Our recruitment drive showed us that there is an extensive reservoir of creative talents in our city and an avid desire to share those skills, and our goal is to keep making that talent accessible to all Winnipeggers,” she said.

Interested visitors should check the library’s social media channels and branch displays for more information on the drop-in activities and workshop. For more information on how to get involved, email ideamill@winnipeg.ca.

av.kitching@freepress.mb.ca

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AV Kitching

AV Kitching
Reporter

AV Kitching is an arts and life writer at the Free Press.

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