The Winnipeg Design Festival is over for another year. The city seems a little greyer without it, a bit more staid. Four days of free events celebrating good design and valuing the work of the designers in our city. Four fun days of sharing and talks and films and mixers.
Success wasn’t measured by attendance or how much money was brought in. There was no Liquor Commission beer garden to drive sales. Success was measured in intangibles; connections made and interdisciplinary collaborations. And people who came to realize that we settle for mediocre design far too often.
I own a small stack of Communication Arts magazines. Those really expensive design, illustration and typography annuals with the glossy covers. I found them at ArtsJunktion where a graphic designer must have unloaded his entire collection.
I keep them around for ideas and inspiration. It’s a common practice and a key feature of the festival was designers sharing and talking about their work with other designers. We’ve all heard the horror stories about artists having their ideas ripped off and their work copied but for the design community in Winnipeg, openness trumps fear.
This was the sixth year of the annual non-profit festival. It is an initiative of StorefrontMB, an organization dedicated to advancing the awareness and appreciation of architecture, design and the built environment in Manitoba.
Each year a different curator is chosen for next year’s festival. Pablo and Dora Batista, 3rd year architectural interns were this year’s curatorial team. Dora is with Stantec and Pablo with 5468796 Architecture. Both have been volunteering with the festival since the second year.
As Dora said, “We wear many hats” since the curators are responsible for coming up with the theme for the event, all the graphics and curating the various exhibitions, lectures and events. They oversee the festival but as she said, “We have fantastic collaborators who take ownership over specific events.”
Their enthusiasm for good design and their conviction that Winnipeg needs to take better advantage of its strong design community was echoed by every organizer and participant I met during the festival. Although it is run by the architectural design community, it was a multi-disciplinary festival with events for the graphic design community, crafters and really, any kind of makers. Anyone and everyone was welcome.
55 Arthur Street was the heart of the festival. A 6,000 square foot space currently for lease, its high ceilings, natural light and wooden floors showed off the various festival exhibitions to their best advantage. It also functioned as a meeting place where you could meet other festival goers and bond over design. Someone here recommended Stacklab’s presentation at Red River College.
Stacklab is a multi-award winning design and fabrication studio in Toronto. Similar to Frank Lloyd Wright, when they take on a residential renovation project they design and fabricate everything – down to the drawer pulls. They have a reputation for using innovative materials in non-traditional ways and the caliber of their work is unprecedented.
The multi-disciplinary studio is comprised of architects, industrial designers and fabricators. They need their large trusted network of collaborators as they do everything from design, fabrication, project management to construction.
Jeffrey Forrest, founder and co-director, showed slides of his designs and discussed the challenges of some of the projects. He talked about the successes and failures and the incredible amount of work that went into some pieces. His studio does small runs of some designs and he acknowledged that they can be cost prohibitive. The Manitoba Craft Council sponsored his presentation here as part of their Craft ED visiting artist lecture series.
The Manitoba Craft Council had partnered with North Forge in arranging a reception followed by a tour of their fabrication lab. Forrest was impressed by the not for profit facility. As he said, “It’s a bigger maker space than anything in Toronto.”
He was also impressed by the variety of machines in the huge makerspace. It boasts four 3D printers as well as digital fabrication and prototyping equipment and everything in between.
More than the machinery, it’s the spirit of collaboration that makes North Forge special. As a successful entrepreneur there said, “People here aren’t out to steal your design, they want to help you.”
Robert Elms, who led the tour, stressed that a number of successful companies in Winnipeg have had designs developed, prototyped and fabricated in the facility.
Hut K furniture store timed the launch of the Umbra Shift collection here in Winnipeg to coincide with the festival. They brought in product developer Mingus New for the event.
New explained the collection is a smaller run by emerging designers. Although it used to be strictly Canadian designers and they now accept submissions from any emerging designer, there is still a “Canadiana” feeling to it. Like Jeffrey Forrest, he liked the small run cachet of it.
“It gives us street cred that Umbra doesn’t always get,” said New. “We work with more experimental designs that get us into different stores and appeal to different clients.”
Both designers offered glimpses into the fascinating world of design. Both shared insights into the industry and stories about the product design process. They both talked about how the business side of design affects the finished products.
I must admit I love this stuff. There are renovation shows on TV but the product design processes and the fabrication techniques are equally as fascinating. Perhaps it helps that I had a short stint as a prop-builders assistant when I was younger.
The Park[ing] Day event was light hearted fun. Park[ing] day is an annual global event where citizens, artists, designers and activists transform metered parking spaces into temporary public parks.
Twelve parking spaces had been re-imagined for the event including Ryan Wakshinski’s installation. His roaring chiminea fire with the neat stacks of firewood and the axe beside them immediately brightened my day.
“Would you like me to make you a smore?” asked Ryan.
When I asked what the reaction to his parking space had been, he said, “People love it. The sound, the smell, the heat. It was especially popular when it was raining.”
His inspiration came from his job with the Parks Branch and he was sponsored by the Manitoba Association of Landscape Architects.
There were so many wonderful events I didn’t make it to. By all accounts the 10 x 20 x 20 at the WAG was one of the highlights of the festival. Ten presenters with 20 slides of their work and 20 seconds per slide. That’s six minutes and 40 seconds in total to talk about their work or topic.
Although primarily an architectural event, there was a lot of crossover in media and everyone loved the format for the event. Jeffrey Forrest’s presentation on reclaiming materials from the Garrison Road Bridge and Alexander Mickelthwate’s piano piece stood out for many.
I do wish I’d taken in more alleyways on Saturday as I would’ve like to have heard the Sound and Space installation and seen the Adriadne installation. If only I’d paid more attention to the festival markers. The flamingo pink mannequins coupled with the neon design roadblock signs denoted each event. The ubiquitous mannequins were everywhere in the Exchange District.
Video by Doug Kretchmer
There was an incredible web of collaboration running throughout the festival.
Non-profits like the Manitoba Crafts Council and the North Forge Lab had tied their events into the festival time frame. Small businesses, such as Hut K had done the same. Millennium Library scheduled pertinent noon hour lectures. The Graphic Designers of Canada (Manitoba) scheduled their PechaKucha during the festival. There were a number of events held at the WAG. So many people collaborated and worked together to make this free event possible.
Some of us now know the difference between a PechaKucha and a 10 x 20 x 20. The increasing numbers of passionate designers here bode well for the future of our city. If we don’t settle we can look forward to innovation in every aspect of built design in Winnipeg.