First Fridays Transforming Winnipeg’s Art Scene

Karen Kornelsen Blog

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By Karen Kornelsen

When you walk through the Exchange District on the first Friday of every month, the energy in the air is electric. With a backdrop of over 100 heritage buildings, cobblestone paths and covered alleyways, hundreds of people fill the streets with a thirst for community, art and inspiration. First Fridays in the Exchange has come a long way since its inception in 2010, and has transformed the landscape of arts and culture in Winnipeg.

First Fridays in the Exchange is one of the most engaging and welcoming arts events the city has to offer. The organization itself is dedicated to bringing together artists, artist-run centres, galleries, businesses and the public for a greater understanding and appreciation of the arts in the thriving Exchange District community.

On the First Friday of every month, starting at 5pm, people from all ages, backgrounds and parts of the city make their way to the Exchange. Dozens of events take place in restaurants, bars, cafes, galleries and shops, artists and galleries launch new works of art, and artists dwelling inside the Exchange’s historic warehouses open up their usually private studios to the public. The event doesn’t need to cost a dime unless you want to take part in some of the arts-focused activities or the organized Art Talk/Art Walk; and if you do, your money will be well-spent.

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In 2010, local artists Sue Gordon and Karen Schulz brought the First Fridays concept to Winnipeg after Gordon’s experience of the First Fridays event in Kansas City, with a goal of educating the public about all things art. With Art Talk/Art Walk, folks can experience a delicious dinner and a moderated talk by incredible local artists at the Winnipeg Free Press Café, plus a guided tour of galleries and studios. This First Friday’s Art Talk (May 6) features artists Karel Funk and Elvira Finnigan. They will speak about their work and the various pressures — both internal and external — that shape their professional lives. This will be the last Art Talk moderated by Sarah Swan, who has been a part of the event since its beginnings. The amazing writer and art historian, Alison Gillmor, will be taking over in June.

Drink & Draw

Another great First Fridays event is Drink & Draw at King + Bannaytine, a special partnership formed between King + Bannatyne owner, Mike Del Buono, and artist and owner of anARCHI design, Zephyra Vun. Zephyra launched the very first Drink & Draw in her modestly-sized studio back in June of 2015.

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“The mandate of anARCHI design has always been accessibility of design and art,” says Zephyra. “This event is aimed at exactly that – providing an accessible opportunity to explore art, in which participants are encouraged to paint whatever they wish. There is no instruction (unless requested), encouraging a completely free expression of the self through drawing and painting. The drinks also help provide the necessary encouragement!”

Mike and Zephyra did their first “pilot” Drink & Draw for Nuit Blanche in 2015 and after its success, they decided to bring it to King + Bannatyne as part of each First Fridays. This Friday marks the fourth one.

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“I’ve always been a huge advocate for the Exchange and I’ve always seen First Fridays as such a great event to bring people down to the area and showcase what we’re all about,” says Mike. “I decided to get involved so I could add to an already amazing event. I also wanted to get people that don’t consider themselves artists to give it a shot and that’s why our Drink + Draw is such a great environment.”

From the beginning, art was a very important part of King + Bannatyne. The restaurant got its start doing pop-ups around the city. Mike and his team worked with local artists Zephyra, Kristina Dimitrova, Dany Reede, and Pat Lazo to create four custom prints and four sandwiches to be served at four local establishments (anARCHI design, Green Room, The Handsome Daughter, and The Good Will). Everyone walked away with a print from the artist and one of their sandwiches, giving them both great exposure. Mike got to keep the originals of each print and they are hung on a wall inside King + Bannatyne for everyone to check out. All proceeds were donated to Graffiti Gallery and it was an amazing experience that formed some great relationships.

This is what First Fridays is all about: building relationships between artists and the public, between art and its viewer and forming new relationships and connections between visitors who come together to share an incredible experience.

“One of the most exciting and rewarding experiences for me is when people come to Drink & Draw or another First Friday event I’ve hosted and tell me it’s their FIRST First Friday,” says Zephyra. “This event is a great facilitator for those who consider art to be a foreign subject matter to them. It really gives people the opportunity to explore all the creative energy the Exchange District has to offer at their own pace. The entire community really comes alive and is activated by the hustle and bustle of people roaming the streets.”

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If you haven’t yet experienced First Fridays in the Exchange, come out this Friday, May 6th, and take part in an event that is a ton of fun, and will open your eyes and expand your horizons.

“I think the most important thing about First Fridays is the exposure to Winnipeg’s amazing art scene that many people don’t know exists,” says Mike. “The galleries put a lot into their shows so that people visiting the Exchange get a real feel for the talent our city has. I think Winnipeg is often overlooked as a hub for the arts; and events like First Fridays help expose our scene. It also, on a vaster scale, is a great representation of our community and the passion people have in the Exchange.”

To check out all the amazing things happening on First Fridays in the Exchange this Friday, you can download/view the official map and guide here or check out the First Fridays website.