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Closing thoughts

July 3, 2011

Although Showing Up, Speaking Out was a Winnipeg-centric project that sought to create opportunities for as wide a range of citizens as possible, and thus focus on social issues of concern to Winnipeggers, it is a project that could have happened anywhere people seek new ways of coming together, thinking together, and taking action to make their community a more open, equal and considerate place. The inclusion of national and international artists served to bring a few fresh artistic perspectives into the city, which is a benefit for citizens at large as well as for local artists.

Overall, the artists had opportunities to build on their existing practices by working with community members in an open, experimental, and flexible environment. Unlike many community arts programs, they did not come to the project with a predefined concept; rather, they worked with community members by sharing their embodied years of experience in helping to shape conversation and the format of projects. This was an opportunity for them to make contact with community members and share not only the nature of their work, but also the wide range of ideas and skills they bring to their practice. This experience was like a mini-residency, giving time and space to create new works in collaboration.

As for me, this project provided an opportunity to better connect with fellow Winnipeggers including artists, social service organizations, and the community at large. It has also given me a chance to make an interesting contribution to the city insofar as dialogue pertaining to activist-motivated arts practices are concerned. I am still very excited about the incredible support this project generated from so many different types of groups and individuals—I’m grateful that the Canada Council for the Arts and Winnipeg Arts Council felt it was a worthwhile endeavour, and I’m thrilled others agreed.

On another personal note, this project helped me realize the goals of my practice and discover areas which ought to be developed further. There is massive potential for fostering citizen engagement with social and political issues through the arts, primarily by facilitating self-empowerment through acts that demystify issues such as power and authority. In the same way artists don’t generally sit around and wait for someone else to declare their right to practice in the public sphere, citizens should likewise feel comfortable creating, and taking opportunities to think, act and articulate ideas in public space simply because they feel motivated to get out there and try. We live in a society that is increasingly isolating, despite growth in technologies claiming to help us better connect. Mainstream media, various types of formal and informal education/socialization, and fear of authority encourage people to accept the status quo as the only option imaginable, but art reminds us otherwise. Participation in the arts, whether as an active member of the audience, or as co-producing peers with professional artists, fosters confidence and imagination, and these are things we all need tremendously.

These reflections relate to my practice in that they are the concepts that intrigue me and motivate my work as a curator. Finding new methods to bridge art and activism in ways that are welcoming/do not intimidate is my greatest creative objective. Beyond that, I am convinced that greater participation in the arts and, by extension, other areas of community experience will help achieve improved quality of life for all citizens. And on that note, especially after a project like Showing Up, Speaking Out that brought together so many different types of people and ideas, I am reminded of why I’ve chosen to live here, and that is because Winnipeggers willingly make space for intelligent, enthusiastic, and experimental creativity. I’m pleased the project happened as it did, and I am motivated to keep going. Maybe the project has encouraged others to feel this way, too?

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