Art City, the free, Winnipeg-based, after-school art program that every city wishes it had, is launching their first curated exhibit — "Me We Everybody" — on January 11, 2018 at La Maison des Artistes Visuels Francophones in Winnipeg's French quarter. The exhibit will feature a selection of artworks — including video art, photography, ceramics and collaborative murals — by the drop-in centre's youth participants, which represent a snapshot of Canada from the young artists' perspectives.
Art City is a not-for-profit community art studio that was founded by internationally renowned artist Wanda Coop in 1998. Open to all ages, Art City is a place where anyone can be given the tools, encouragement, supplies and safe environment to experiment with and create art (and even receive a free, healthy meal).
"Winnipeg is known nationally for having the highest rates of child poverty and for having a very thriving art community, so Art City is using one to address the other," explains Josh Ruth, Art City's managing director.
While the West Broadway centre — as well as their outreach sites across the city — welcomes people from all walks of life, 98% of participants are between the ages of 6 and 14. 48% of the people who access Art City are Indigenous, and a large portion are newcomer Canadians. While Art City's participants are a diverse, multicultural group, Ruth explains that this wasn't necessarily the focus of their programming but came about naturally. "The barriers in the community that tend to divide people don't exist at Art City. Art is visual language, and language is another barrier that is transcended at Art City."
The barriers in the community that tend to divide people don't exist at Art City. Art is visual language, and language is another barrier that is transcended at Art City.
- Josh Ruth, Art City's managing director
In addition to the 25 artists on staff who provide art programming, Art City also invites guest artists — through both a professional artist series and community artist series — to share their art practices at a community level in day- or week-long workshops. Through their outreach programming, they work with groups in other areas of the city that have a need for art programming. At 10 to 13 different sites each week, Art City provides the same artist-run workshops and after-school drop-ins in collaboration with community centres, schools and family resource centres. They've also recently started programming for elders. "Older adults are [also] among the most underserved people in the community [...] so I think it's really important to find ways to provide engaging activities for elders and to hear their stories," says Ruth. Art City is truly the free art programming that every Canadian city — and community — needs.
This year's curated exhibit, "Me We Everybody," was conceived of by Art City staff and Youth Council members. The Council is open to all participants and meets monthly to ensure that Art City is providing programming that is relevant to the kids' needs and interests. The exhibit's theme is, in some ways, a response to Canada 150 in that they wanted to use the opportunity to reflect on the wide range of Canadian experiences. With that in mind, over the course of 2017, Art City invited guest artists that represent key elements of the community to work with kids in developing their artwork, including Indigenous artists, queer artists, newcomer artists and Francophone artists.
The collaborative nature of Art City's programming is perhaps best illustrated by the exhibit's poster art. The influx of Syrian refugees — especially children — to Winnipeg last February gave Art City the idea to create a "Winter Enjoyment Guide" for the new Winnipeggers. Participants from both the West Broadway location and all the community sites across the city illustrated their favourite Winnipeg winter activities to help new Syrian kids feel welcome in a city and climate that they were unfamiliar with. 500 guides were printed and distributed along with "emergency art kits," in partnership with NEEDS. (You can see the Guides being distributed in the Art City documentary here.) And it was such a success that the kids decided to create a Summer Enjoyment Guide as well — the cover image of which is the poster for the upcoming exhibit.
"Me We Everybody" runs from January 11 to February 3, 2018 at La Maison des Artistes Visuels Francophones, located at 219 Provencher Boulevard, Winnipeg. Art City relies on funding to operate, and you can donate here.