Arts

When it comes to impacting their communities, these Winnipeggers go Wall to Wall

The Wall to Wall Mural Festival is focused on outdoor murals/street art around specific neighbourhoods in Winnipeg.

The third edition of the Wall to Wall Mural Festival is utilizing art to create change

Matta. Kangiqsujuaq, Nunavik, Canada, 2011. 15x30', latex and spray paint. Matta is the eldest elder of Kangiqsujuaq, the beautiful town featured in Human Planet for their winter mussel harvesting tradition. (PA System)

A mural can be much more than just an image on a wall. That "look good, feel good" mentality people talk about when they mention dressing for the job you want — not the job you have — is equally true for neighbourhoods. Vibrant, interesting buildings translate into active spaces where people want to be.

Take Winnipeg's Wall to Wall Mural and Culture Festival. Created by Andrew Eastman and Chloe Chafe of Synonym Art Consultation, what started off as a small festival focused on one neighbourhood with local artists has grown to encompass multiple neighbourhoods and international artists while maintaining its initial mantra: art creates change. This year, their largest murals are going up in the city's North End — an area typically not seen as an arts destination.

"Everyone just thinks The Exchange is the only community [in Winnipeg] that art happens in, which is a great thing because people flock to it, but it's important to recognize how much movement is happening in the surrounding communities, and how much support there is, and how they are and can be safe spaces," Chafe tells CBC Arts.

Bowhead. Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada, 2010. 30x160', latex and spray paint. Painted with Jonathan Cruz. (PA System)

"We do feel in general that public art is a way to increase safety and to increase a sense of community," adds Eastman.

The North End Community Renewal Corporation (NECRC) has partnered with Synonym for the festival; the organization sees the festival as a catalyst to ignite change, and as fuel to keep the momentum of the work already happening going.

"This isn't a new idea," says Andrew Sannie, Recreation and Wellness Liaison for NECRC. "It has worked all over the world in neighbourhoods with the backdrop of a railway, with disenfranchisement, with the area being run down."

We do feel in general that public art is a way to increase safety and to increase a sense of community.- Andrew Eastman

Local Métis artist Kenneth Lavallee is one of the artists involved in the project, and his mural is going up on two buildings on Main Street in the city's North End neighbourhood. It was an idea that he says was a long time in the making.

"I grew up on Pritchard Avenue and I used to go to daycare on Main Street," says Lavellee, "and I'd pass by this Jackson Beardy mural, and that's something that's been a big influence on everything I do."

More recently, Lavallee was working at Main Street's Neechi Commons — a community business complex focused on Indigenous communities — and every morning he'd look out the window to "these sad-looking buildings."

A mock up of one of Ken Lavallee's designs. (Wall To Wall)

"I had just seen this project in Philadelphia called Philly Painting where the city got these two artists to come to this decrepit area of Philly called Germantown and colour block entire buildings in these vibrant colours," he explains. "And I saw this and thought, 'That looks exactly like what I look at every day on Main Street.'"

Using the concept of Philly Painting merged with the star blanket motif, Lavallee was inspired to re-imagine the buildings of Main Street to both beautify and raise awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

In keeping with the need for awareness and the need to incorporate community into every aspect of the festival, the choice of Wall to Wall's artists came about not because of their celebrity status, but because of their skill, environmental awareness, and mentorship capabilities. Check out a full list of those involved here.  

Wall to Wall Mural and Culture Festival. September 2-October 1. Various locations, Winnipeg. www.synonymartconsultation.com

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