During the month of September, a whole bunch of people are going to be painting the town red.
And blue. And yellow. And purple. And green.
In fact, the Wall to Wall Mural & Culture Festival will likely leave no colour of the rainbow unused, as 14 new contemporary works spring up on the sides of local buildings. The multi-storey works — painted by artists from Winnipeg, Vancouver, Montreal, Quebec City and New York — are at a variety of sites, but all welcome passersby and visitors to engage with the muralists while they paint.
The sixth version of the annual festival will also provide the less literal interpretation of town-painting in the form of concerts, exhibitions, workshops and a block-party finale tied into Nuit Blanche celebrations.
The fest is curated by Synonym Art Consultation and Graffiti Art Programming. Synonym co-directors Chloe Chafe and Andrew Eastman are quick to point out that the event is more than murals.
As its name indicates, it’s also about culture, which means presenting a slate of music events that includes South African-Canadian singer-songwriter Zaki Ibrahim at The Forks on Sept. 13; local abstract rapper the O.B. releasing his debut album Nevereverville on Sept. 13, and Icelandic-Filipina rapper Cell7 on Sept. 21.
"(Synonym) started with the idea and kernel of collaboration, trying to make art more accessible to the public," Eastman said at a press conference at the Fortune Block at 232 Main St. on Tuesday morning. "We started in very small little spaces, little hair salons, and now it’s expanded all across the city and into the streets, and now we’re painting giant, four-storey murals on the sides of buildings. So it’s a very exciting trajectory we’ve been on."
The festival officially kicked off Sept. 1; already in the works is a piece by Vancouver’s Tierney Milne and Brother Jopa (a.k.a. John Park), who are creating a text-based mural called Smile on the south side of the Food Fare on Maryland Street. The concept for this mural was generated by a brainstorming workshop conducted by Eastman at Studio 393, at which youth came up with words that best represented the West Broadway community.
That kind of collaboration — which includes opportunities for youth engagement and mentorship — is another important facet of the festival, says Elliott (Ness) Walsh, manager of Studio 393, a drop-in centre that serves youth between 14 to 28 years of age and offers programs in music, recording, visual arts, dance and podcasting.
Participants at Studio 393 workshopped mural ideas with local artists Annie Beach and Peatr Thomas. The final designs resulting from those sessions will be painted on Bunzy’s Auto Shop, overlooking the Thunderbird House gardens, as a gift to the community.
Synonym also strives to collaborate with those who may never have worked with such a large canvas before.
"Over the last six years, we’ve been working with artists to get them to pull their vision out of their sketchbooks, sometimes artists that have painted just on a small scale, and trying to get their work up on a big, big level," Eastman said.
For 2019, the Downtown BIZ has partnered with the festival to bring murals and graffiti pieces to The Forks, the Fortune Block, Fools & Horses coffee shop on Broadway and the Garrick on Garry Street.
The piece at The Forks is painted into the concrete bowl of the skatepark, while the work at the Fortune Block by Winnipeg graphic designer Jonato Dalayoan will cover the construction hoarding that will surround the future site of the renovated block’s urban park/green space, currently a vacant lot.
On Tuesday, Sept. 17, the Downtown BIZ will host a free walking tour, offering participants a chance to learn more about the artists while exploring a variety of downtown locations. The tour winds up at Fools & Horses with an art exhibition and tea ceremony by Nancy Nguyen.
Nguyen, a Winnipeg-born, Vancouver-based artist, is also responsible for the brightly coloured labels on beer sponsor Barn Hammer’s new Wall-to-Wall Hazy Pale Ale, while Winnipeg designer Trevor Thomas created a wrap for a car in the Peg City Car Co-op’s fleet.
For the festival’s finale on Sept. 28, Synonym will host a block party at 211 Pacific Ave. that features a community feast, art activities and a musical lineup chosen by the Sakihiwe Festival, including local Anishinaabe DJ Boogey the Beat and Montreal Oji-Cree artist Arachnid.
For a complete list of concerts, workshops and exhibitions, see walltowallwpg.com.
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Jill Wilson writes about culture and the culinary arts for the Arts & Life section.