The Works Art and Design Festival
Runs until Tuesday, July 3
Sir Winston Churchill Square and various locations in downtown Edmonton
Edmonton plays host to several major festivals every year, but few have as much impact on the local arts community as The Works Art and Design Festival. Now in its 27th year, the 13-day celebration of all things art and design collaborates with downtown Edmonton to bring the art to the people.
While many of the exhibits are taking place in buildings surrounding the downtown area, others have been stripped from their gallery walls and can be found right in Churchill Square. Encouraging the public to mingle with the artists themselves, The Works has arranged for artist talks, receptions and even live demonstrations to show what both Canadian and international artists have to offer.
Shannon Bowler, the festival’s volunteer coordinator, believes the open concept is a key factor that sets The Works apart from the other festivals that come to Edmonton every year.
“None of the other festivals are doing what we’re doing in the sense that we put the public into positions that they wouldn’t normally be in,” Bowler says. “The public is kind of forced to walk into an exhibit when they weren’t expecting it, and they’re often taken by surprise. It’s just providing this experience to people who might not normally go into an art gallery or be exposed to that kind of art.”
The theme of this year’s festival is Energy II: Collaboration, marking the second year The Works has targeted energy-related exhibits. Focusing more specifically on the collaborative processes behind the art, The Works features art created both through collaboration by multiple artists and works that require the public’s participation to complete.
One of the headliner exhibits features a collaborative group from Montreal called En Masse, who will be working with local contributors to create black and white street art across two giant gateways at the festival entrances. The group will be working on the gateways throughout the festival so the public can catch a glimpse at the creative process behind the final product.
The Works also gives local Edmonton art galleries the chance to integrate themselves further into the hearts of local art lovers. Amber Rooke, the festival’s director of programs and productions, says the participation of local galleries is yet another example of the synergetic spirit behind the festival.
“The festival itself is a very collaborative process,” Rooke explains. “Out of the 53 exhibits that we list, there are a number of them that are programmed directly by the galleries that they’re in, like the SNAP gallery, the FAB gallery, the McMullen gallery and Latitude 53. They all program their own spaces, and so this is an opportunity for them to contribute to the festival as well as highlight what they do while Edmonton is paying attention to art and design.”
Rooke, who has been with the festival for the last eight years, says she’s witnessed considerable growth over the years. Now looking at what the festival has done not only for artists but Edmonton itself, it’s clear that The Works has played a key role in making the Edmonton arts community what it is today.
“Back in 1986 when we first started, the festival was taking place in a lot of abandoned spaces throughout the downtown,” Rooke says. “Of course, this was during the recession and downtown was pretty empty. The festival was brought in as a revitalization initiative, and nowadays, downtown is doing really well. What I would hope to see is that the festival becomes a very important part of keeping people here and attracting them to want to live in the downtown core. Culture brings quality of life, so that’s what
the festival can do for residents.
“The festival gives people an opportunity to gather together and celebrate the contributions that they’re making to the art scene. This is a celebration of what Edmonton has to offer year round.”
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