By Max Hamilton
Synonym started in West Broadway, and since its foundation, the neighbourhood has developed at an incredible rate. It’s an art consultation group, driven by the desire to see employment opportunities for local and international artists, well-known for the many murals it has been a part of creating in our city. Since its beginning, the area that its headquarters are situated in has become more defined visually, and a central part of Winnipeg. There seems to be a relationship between the boom in population and in public art, something which their annual Wall to Wall Mural and Cultural festival will be further developing this year.Though our city has had a reputation for its murals for some time, the majority of past work was commissioned by the city or business owners, and had more to do with soft-sell advertising or the depiction of historical events than expressing anything human. The walls were colourful, but cold. Wall to Wall aims to give artists from around the world a chance to work without the constraints of a typical contract for commissioned work.
“Essentially we’re trying to give our city art of the caliber that you would find in a contemporary gallery,” says Andrew Eastman, who co-founded Synonym with Chloe Chafe.
The main event of the festival launches on Nuit Blanche, at the site of two of the city’s best murals, which were installed last year in the North End. The location isn’t one that sees activity of this scale most of the year, and it’s rare that any place draws in communities from around the city and suburbs the way that it has on this night in the past. That’s partly circumstantial, it being Nuit Blanche, and partly by design. While drawing the music and arts communities together, the folks at Siloam Mission were invited to join in the celebration with a community feast. Says Chloe, “There is a spark that comes from activating on so many different levels with so many different people.”
“Activating”, as they term it, has to do with bringing communities into the fold in the construction of their projects. Whether through involvement in the crafting of the mural itself, or in celebration of its completion with the musical events, which don’t merely complement the art like a wine and cheese pairing, but expand its significance beyond the borders of its design into the memories of the many who choose to take part; a moment, tethered by a thousand eyes to this image on this wall, becomes a living monument to the mind of the city. (This is a primal thing.)
And it’s this that distinguishes Wall to Wall from the mural festivals held around the world which seem to be content with painting big, glamorous murals just to paint over them the next year.
“We don’t work with murals for the sake of murals,” says Andrew “we try to tailor all of our projects to the neighbourhood they’re in.” It’s important that their artists be with them on this, and they are largely chosen for their willingness to contribute to a larger conversation and to engage the community in their work.
When Synonym was brought in to activate the Dufferin industrial district, they consulted with local elders to tailor the content of the murals to speak to that community and the issues surrounding it.
“Those projects were very much based on the struggles of that area, it being the epicenter for missing and murdered indigenous women in our city,” says Chloe.
The result was the Mending mural. The now-iconic image of a five storey tall woman mending a human heart. By laying out the realities of the neighbourhood the artists were working in, they were able to design a project that resonates with, and fits into the elder’s vision for the community.
Wall to Wall and Synonym are founded on the idea of collaboration, and have worked with many organizations over the years, including the Rainbow Trout Bike Jam. This year Synonym is partnering with Studio 393, an after-school hip-hop workshop, to create the Wall to Wall mentorship program, which will be developing the talents of youth in areas of both musical and visual arts with the hopes of developing skills in artists who may one day take part in the festival itself.