Peepshow in the Exchange

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Early this fall the Exchange District BIZ (Business Improvement Zone) launched a new program, Pop-up Art, turning unoccupied store fronts into temporary art galleries. The project got off the ground during Culture Days — a cross-country culture festival that took place the last weekend of September.

The Winnipeg Pop-up initiative was inspired by the Pop-up Art Loop in Chicago, which began in effort to foster partnerships between artists and property owners, creating temporary gallery space at no cost to the artist. Similarly, the BIZ hopes that these displays create a community link between businesses, artists and everyone who sees them.

Some installations were only up for Nuit Blanche, while others will run as late as February before being switched to a new display.

“The plan is to rotate installations at least twice a year,” said Catherine Maksymiuk, Culture Days Manitoba communications and event coordinator.
U of M school of art students Robyn Wall, Rowan Grey and Scott Fitzpatrick also had displays up. The Culture Days website says Wall’s exhibit, Body Pillows, “explore(s) the relationship between the individual and their physical world.” Gray’s Three Figures “plays with light to animate oversize figures.”

Dirk Blouw and Michael Maksymiuk, architecture master’s students and partners at the design and production firm Diffraction Unlimited, provide a peek into a different place at 35 Albert St.. A collaged wall with two small peepholes greets viewers and invites them to look beyond the surface.

How did this peepshow come about? Says Blouw: “The idea of offering a small portal to a strange, unlikely world and offering no explanation for its existence is part of the pleasure of this project. Pop-Up Art in the Exchange offered the perfect opportunity to explore it.”

This project is unlike any the duo have done before. Blouw explained that as architects the ideas they present are usually done formally and in a very structural way, which made this exhibit a bit of an adventure for them.

“It’s liberating to work outside of these parameters, and the fact that we could do this in such a public, visible venue makes it that much more fun and exciting,” he said.

Blouw enthused about the program: “It’s a great idea; it offers an unreal venue to showcase ideas and simultaneously draws attention to the various vacant spaces where the works are being displayed.”

Stephanie Scherbain, marketing and communications coordinator for the BIZ, said the point of the initiative was to “transform empty store fronts into a walk-able feast of art installations and exhibits. Pop-Up Art in the Exchange was created with the goal to create vibrancy and excitement in empty spaces in the area and to give visitors, workers and residents something to view.”

The BIZ initiated the program by soliciting downtown businesses for their donations of unused shop space. After coming to an agreement with Bedford Investments and Creswin Properties, they sent out the call for artist submissions. There were no guidelines regarding the type of art in the call, which made for a diverse assortment of pieces.

“This is really an edgy, exciting thing,” said Maksymiuk.

But don’t just take her word for it. As a participant in the project, Blouw said he would recommend the experience to anyone.

Current spaces in use for this project are: Bedford Investments, 100 King Street; Creswin Properties, 35 Albert Street; and Centure Venture Development Corporation, 109 James Avenue.

The Exchange District BIZ is looking for more artists to participate in the Pop-up Art collaboration. Artist applications can be downloaded from the Manitoba Culture Days website.