Winter: an incubator for the arts

So last week I was asked to do a little talk at PechaKucha on the 23rd, which is a platform for designers and other creatives to share ideas and inspire one another. Although the entire thing lasts less than seven minutes (20 slides for 20 seconds each) the idea of standing up with a room full of people all with their attention on me, makes me rather nervous. I was bouncing around ideas all last week, but with the onset of winter, I feel like I have finally arrived at a topic that will work perfectly. Why Winnipeg Winters enrich the arts. I have had the opportunity to work with all kinds of creative people over the years, and I think it may have something to do with the blank canvass of winter. Below is a little intro to the idea, if anyone has anything else to add, please get in touch! Also come to the Park Theatre on October 23rd!


T HE PARTY WAS just embers at this point. Five or seven of us sitting amidst empty beer bottles and popped balloons, licking chip crumbs out of the bottom of party bowls. Three am, but warm still because the sidewalks driveways and rooftops absorb hours of august sunshine all day long. Summer in Winnipeg is languid and loitering, never in a rush and never regretful. 

It was on such an august night, that I fully appreciated winter. If you are from Winnipeg you will understand what I mean when I say this…winter is much more of a beautiful idea in August than in January. 

We were sitting around the patio table that night on Wolseley, I was surrounded by musicians from all different genres: Jazz, bluegrass, country folk and pop. The conversation wove in and out of topics like smoke tends to. Eventually the subject came around to Winnipeg being a natural artists hub. How some of the best musicians in the world came from this town. I piped in that I had read in the Globe and Mail once that Andrew Lloyd Webber was quoted saying “Winnipeg is the cultural incubator of the world”, as he went on to put together one of his musicals here. And what is it about our unsuspecting little community? What makes Winnipeg this “creative incubator”? Is it because we are geographically isolated enough to sort of implode into ourselves? Is it an energy thing, having to do with the notion that two rivers meet here, bringing two sources of opposing energies- a meeting place. A place of creation? 

At the table was a musician who said it best ” I was born in Iran, and have been all over the world in these past twenty years, since I left. I will tell you something that I know for sure: for all the beautiful music I have heard around the globe, the very first time I have ever heard real silence was in this city.” 

You know how once in a blue moon someone says something that halts a conversation, where you just know that you have stumbled into answering a question you hadn’t even realized you were asking? That is what happened here. Everyone leaned in from their lawn chairs and put out their cigarettes, all attention was on Amir. “You know, the first time I heard this silence was while I was walking on the Assinaboine. It is a strange sensation to know you are walking on water you know. I remember being right in the center of the city, in the middle of the night, standing there on the water and thinking ‘ the only sound I know at this moment is the sound of my own footsteps.’ I knew that to stop walking I would be absorbed deep into this silence. When I did, when I stopped there that night, I will tell you this: silence is a powerful thing.” 

This simple statement drew together all these fragmented thoughts I had. Silence, was the answer music was asking for. White space was the answer the brush stroke begs for. For words to flow into stories there must first be a blank page. To know the beauty light makes in a photo you have to know the corners of darkness. For a dance to move you, it must be contrasted with stillness. And as I thought of these things it dawned on me, this is what makes Winnipeg unique. It is our winters. These long periods of frigid days that turn into darkness before dinner-time. Where everything is muffled and stilled by the duvet of whiteness. 

Without silence music would be noise, without white space art would be chaos, without darkness a photograph would not develop. Because every Winnipegger knows winter, we know how to respect a blank page, before taking a pen to it, we know just how beautiful kinetic movement can be, because we have also known stillness. 

So if you are feeling that self-loathing Winnipeg feeling this winter, go stand in a field or on the river, and listen for that powerful silence, and watch whiteness as far as you can see.