A dialogue about the 32nd annual The Works Art & Design Festival

by Jacqueline Withers

While Edmonton’s festival scene operates year-round, the ‘Festival City’ moniker is most fitting in the summer. The 32nd annual The Works Art & Design Festival, regarded by many Edmontonians as the unofficial start of the summer festival season, runs from June 22 until July 4, 2017 at Sir Winston Churchill Square and at smaller satellite locations across downtown. North America’s largest outdoor art and design festival, ‘The Works’ features art by more than 600 artists, presented in 49 exhibits, with over 200 special events, such as concerts, performances, and workshops, all free of charge to the public.

During the recent media preview, Executive Artistic Director Amber Rooke unveiled the theme for the 32nd annual ‘Works’ festival: dialogue. And like all good art, this theme is nuanced and textured.

Dialogue is inherent in the design and interpretation of art. Along with being a medium for the artist to ask questions to better understand themselves and the world around them, art is fundamentally a two-way dialogue between artist and audience. This intimate interaction between creator and viewer allows for the exchange of ideas required for the piece to take on meaning.

Dialogue is also involved when art and performance are a collaborative venture between multiple artists. In these cases, effort must be made by each party to listen, acknowledge, interpret, and exchange ideas. Although things do not always go as planned, some of the most engaging and transformative results can be reached in this way. Look for examples of this at ‘The Works’ this year, such as ImagiNation Miscellany’s What Have You Heard About Us?—a multidisciplinary art installation exploring stereotypes faced by Edmonton’s Indigenous and cultural minority communities.

This collaborative process is both analogous and relevant to Canada’s upcoming 150th birthday,which takes place during ‘The Works’ on July 1. This highlights the need for continued dialogue and understanding between the nation, particularly between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous populations. ‘The Works’ has produced several art projects in honour of Canada’s 150th, such as Lana Whiskeyjack’s Nimiyosimacihon Ispihk murals (located in City Hall, City Room East), which was inspired by interviews she conducted with Indigenous women about beauty and resilience. Sophie Arès-Pilon and Patrick Arès-Pilon present Le Salon Slideshow—an immersive nostalgic and scenographic installation which transports visitors back in time to view Canadian vintage slideshows of the 1900’s. On June 24 & 30, and July 1 from 7 – 9 pm, visitors are encouraged to bring their own slides for Slideshow and Tell.

Finally, ‘The Works’ festival, itself, introduces a macro-level dialogue between city and citizens. Viewed from this lens, the interaction between artist and citizen, between citizen and city, enables us to develop new ideas and perspectives about ourselves, our environment, and our interconnectedness. And what better venue for such an exchange of ideas than outside in the downtown core, during Edmonton’s finest weather and surrounded by an abundance of enticing sights, sounds, and foods?

The media preview concluded with a challenge posed by Rooke that I pass on to you:

Ask questions of art. Be open to art. And maybe even be changed by art.

For more information on the 32nd annual The Works Art & Design Festival, including performance schedules and exhibit locations, visit http://www.theworks.ab.ca/

Photography courtesy of The Works International Visual Arts Society.

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