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The Works Art & Design Festival 2012

Updated on May 27, 2016
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After numerous moves, Anna and her family have settled in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Here are some local events that make Edmonton special.

2D or Not 2D

Every spring, in the City of Edmonton, a section of road alongside Churchill Square and City Hall is blocked off from traffic. When that happens, we all know; festival season is about to begin!

The Works Art & Design Festival is one of the largest of these. Almost two weeks long, the main activities take place in Churchill Square, in the heart of Edmonton's downtown. Other displays and installations are scattered around the area. Each year has a different theme, with the 2012 theme being 2D or Not 2D.

Unless otherwise specified, the photos here are ones I took during a visit on July 2, 2012.

Where the Action is - Finding Your Way

If you're interested in taking in The Works, there are a number of choices available to you.

Driving: If you're driving in, I'll warn you right off the top; there's not a lot of parking in downtown Edmonton, though there are a number of parkades and parking lots to choose from in the area. I would recommend any of them over the parking meters, unless you expect to stay only a short time. If possible, leave your vehicle elsewhere.

Bus: The area is a major transit hub, with dozens of buses from all over the city eventually making stops either right in the area, or within a block or two. Edmonton has a pretty decent transit system, and many of the buses are wheelchair accessible as well.

LRT: Edmonton's Light Rail Transit has a station directly below Churchill Square (where the 1 is on the map), as well as several other stations nearby. There are some stations with Park and Ride lots, where you can leave your vehicle parked for free while taking the train, which is a great option for visitors driving in from out of town. All trains are wheelchair accessible. The LRT stations also have ticket vending machines.

Walking: Of course, there is always your feet! If you are visiting Edmonton, there are a lot of hotels in the downtown area, suitable for a range of budgets. There are so many things to see and do in the area, it's well worth it to find a place to stay downtown, leave your vehicle at the hotel, and take a walk. I've lived in or near the downtown core for six years at the time of this writing, and I'm still stumbling on new and interesting places during our frequent walks!

In the map above, not only are the LRT stations marked, but so are the pedway routes, colour coded for underground, ground level, above ground and third level routes. These are handy routes to get around downtown while avoiding foul weather or having to wait for traffic to cross streets. It's the season for thunderstorms when the festival is held, so being able to get about indoors can be a very handy thing!

The numbers on the map mark out the locations of all the art installations for the 2012 Works. Some locations include the main branch of the library, the Citadel Theatre, City Centre Mall, the Shaw Conference Centre and City Hall, just to name a few surrounding the square itself. Most are within comfortable walking distance.

The Arches

One of the regular features of The Works are a pair of welcoming arches, and is something I look forward to seeing every year. Different artists are selected each year to decorate them. Beginning with a blank canvas at the start of the festival, visitors can watch the artists at work and see how it progresses from day to day. Dispite using the same framework every year, the arches are always wildly different. One year that we attended, the arches didn't even have canvas, but instead had a rainbow of piping and nozzles that sprayed a mist of water on people passing under them. In the heat of June, it was much appreciated!

The Competition - Street Furniture

I don't know that this is an annual event, but looking back at my photos from years past, it's been held at least once before since we've started taking the festival in.

Teams of up to three people have a selection of materials available for them to build improvisational furniture. The finished pieces are judged by a panel of community members, then set out on display for festival goers to view.

The Market

This photo shows most of the display and vendor tents. Some are presentations by companies or organizations, others are artists selling their original work, and still others are vendors for things like imported hand crafted items.

A fairly wide variety of art styles are represented for sale here, from framed digital art to blown glass to hand crafted jewelry to shisha embroidered bedspreads and more.

The Stage

Here you can see the open air stage and some of the beer garden seating. Through the festival, there are a wide range of performers taking their turn. We've seen stand up comics, solo performers, a large seniors Big Band, folk, rock and more.

This is one venue that can be incredibly hit and miss. We've seen some amazingly good performances, and gone on to buy the performer's CDs, when we found them available. Others were cringingly bad. Either way, it's entertaining!

Food Street

This section of street gets closed off for the festival season's food vendors. I have to admit, whatever festival happens to be going on, this is the area I most look forward to checking out! There is always such a variety of foods to choose from, and is where we indulge in some once or twice a year treats.

This year you could get bannock burgers, deep fried wontons stuffed with crab and cream cheese, green onion cakes, deep fried chocolate bars, bubble tea and, of course, the ever present hot dogs and corn dogs. Cuisine ranged from Thai, Chinese, Indian, First Nations and more. You'll see grills, deep friers and gaint cauldrons in action, feeding hungry festival goers.

Personally, my yearly indulgence is the crab and cream cheese wontons. They are amazing! If you're not familiar with green onion cakes, I'd highly recommend them as well. They're an Edmonton favorite, and each vendor seems to have its own special recipe, all good!

Getting some Shade

In between the main part of the Square and the food vendors is a lovely area of green space. I've been told by locals that the entire area used to be grass and trees but, a few years before we moved out there, much of the area was paved over, leaving only this strip of green space. Some are still bitter about it.

On the one hand, I can see why. It's a lovely space, cool and shady. I'm sure the area was greatly enjoyed. It took only our first festival at this location, however, to show me that changing it was a good idea. As I mentioned at the top, we have a thunderstorm season, and once it rains, this area becomes very muddy. I could easily imagine how much this would have been a problem! When activities are taking place in this area, the grass is quickly destroyed. By fall, the entire area needs to be fenced off until it can be re-sodded. I imagine it became prohibitively expensive for the city to be fixing the sod for the entire area year after year, never mind this small remaining area of greenspace. Sidewalk blocks have been added to lessen the problem, and it seems event organizers are no longer having activities in the area because of how muddy it gets. Now, there are tables, chairs and picnic tables set up for people to enjoy their food in the shade.

The Art Installations

The Works is all about the art and design, of course, and the venues can be very diverse. In some cases, photography is not allowed, but with most of them, photos are welcome.

The displays include the expected sculptures and framed art in a variety of mediums, as well as some unexpected live action or interactive venues. Not all are from professional artists, either. In 2012, for example, the display in the Shaw Conference Centre included art made by children and teens. Some were class assignments, others by art students exploring their own themes and skills.

The first year we took in the works, we took in a fashion display. Each of the artists was given a box with the exact same materials. Using those materials, they had to come up with designs that were first displayed in a fashion show, then set up for public viewing, along with photos of them being worn by models. The materials includes a variety of fabrics, plus a few odd things, like a small plastic container that used to have margerine in it! The artists could add some things to their supplies, like sewing thread or zippers, but otherwise had to use whatever was in their box. It was remarkable to see how different the final pieces were.

Edmonton's City Hall always has several displays. In the photo above, we got there just as the artist was starting to pack up. The artist, Margie Davidson, had been working on this scarf for almost a year. When finished, each stitch will represent every minute of every day for 366 days (leap year). She had not missed a single day of knitting, and with only a few days left, her daily hours of knitting were scheduled to be worked on in public, under the glass pyramic of City Hall.

Along one side of the scarf, stitch markers are placed every 24 rows - one row for each day of the year. Corresponding white ribbons on the other side has dates on them. The middle of the year is marked with a yellow ribbon. The artist knit with three strands of yarn together, choosing and mixing colours to match the colours of the season. As I was taking photos, they were putting the scarf away into what looked like a large hockey bag. I just had to ask how much it weighed - about 40 pounds!

All of the art installations are clearly marked. First, by numbered signs on the sidewalks outside the venue locations, then, if necessary, by signs and arrows guiding visitors to the display areas. Finally, there is a different style of sign in front of the venues themselves. Nearby, there are signs and other displays about the artists, their themes and inspirations and about the displays themselves.

The Big Tent

Every year, there is The Big Tent, typically divided into two sections. They frequently have a predictable, overt activist or political theme. Past themes included anthropogenic global warming (message: humans are bad), environmentalism (message: humans are bad) and trendy sexual themes (message: heteronormitivity is bad).

For 2012, one section held a display by a variety of artists in Indegeneity. There is often some sort of token First Nations display somewhere in the festival, and this one is a step up from the last one we saw, which featured the artist, Buffalo Boy, in photos wearing a hat, fishnet stockings, boots and not much else. Oh, and bison skins. The 2012 display was better, if predictable. Personally, I found it very bland and forgettable. While I can understand what I think the concept was supposed to be - healing through art, I think, but I'm not entirely sure - I'm not sure how wearing silver body suits in the snow accomplishes that (message: red people are victims).

The other had a display called Pop Sex! science, history, culture, art, exhibition. It had no science, little history and, for the folks milling about hoping to spot a bit of p*rn, no exhibitionism. It was mostly old photos from the era of Nazi Germany about the current popular trend in psuedo-science, the gender spectrum. Of course, the makers of this display couldn't resist placing an out of context quote from a politcal party leader that had nothing to do with the theme, in an attempt to make her out to be a bigot (message: heteronormity is bad. Because, Nazis).

After a few years, I've become very cynical about the displays in this tent. I thoroughly dislike "art" that bashes you over the head with its preachiness.

The Works Over the Years

If you wish to see more photos of The Works, I have a number of them available for viewing, organized by year.

2012

2010

2009

2008

Photo from The Works, 2010.

Other Art

While the Art and Design Festival has its many displays, Edmonton is also a city filled with public art, both permanent and temporary. Churchill Square alone has several. The sculpture featured here, called Lunch Break, is a perennial favorite. Of course, there is a statue of Winston Churchill, for whom the square is named, several memorial sculptures and more then a few whimsical pieces. Look carefully, and you'll probably spot a few yarn bombs, too!

The Stanley A. Milner library has a small gallery. There is always a display there for The Works, plus rotating displays throughout the year, always featuring local artists. You can also expect displays from groups such as the Weavers Guild, Quirky Quillers and many more. Inside the library itself there are a number of other art displays on both levels.

A few blocks away, in front of the Shaw Conference Centre, is an area with sculptural displays that change up every half a year or so, as well as some permenent displays. Walk a few blocks in any direction, and you'll be sure to find many more. Years ago, I started taking photos of all the public art displays I found with the intention of getting photos of all the public art in Edmonton and putting them together in a sort of documentary dvd. After a couple of years, I gave up. There was simply too much to document!

In Conclusion

Image of one of the displays in City Hall

Not too long ago, a friend of ours who lives out of town asked us about The Works. She was wondering what we thought of it. Having taken in the festival for many years (2011 being the only year we missed since moving to Edmonton), we had plenty to tell her!

The first year we discovered the festival, it was quite a surprise, as we'd never seen anything quite like it before. Over the years, however, we became more and more disenchanted with the festival. The preachiness of the themes became tiresome and, as I mentioned above, predictable. Basically, if you are even slightly to the political right of the organizers of the festival (which still seems well left of centre), it will let you know that you are the source of everything that is wrong with the world. The tendency to latch on to the activist trend of the day has made it increasingly boring. In truth, the only reason we went this year at all was to take photos for this lens.

Judging from the lack of visitors this year, and the significant drop in vendor tents, I suspect we are not the only ones losing interest in the festival.

Would I recommend it to someone?

Yes and no.

Yes to take in the stage shows: It may be hit or miss, but it's a great place to discover talent you may not encounter elsewhere.

Yes to the vendors: The best way to support the arts is with cold, hard cash! These are usually independent artists trying to make a living with their art, and the cost to set up a tent is very high. There is enough of a variety that you'll be sure to find something to your taste. Support artists. Buy art. This also applies to the food tents.

Yes and No to the art installations: Good art is often in the eye of the beholder, and really good art can even compensate for preachiness. Some of it is great, some of it is strange, and some of it is... confusing.

No to The Big Tent: I wouldn't have said that when we first started visiting The Works, but after all these years, I would have to say, don't bother unless you like getting hit over the head with political/activist messages.

Is it worth coming to Edmonton for? On its own, probably not - at least not anymore - but there are so many things to see and do in Edmonton, I would call it a worthwhile addition to your visit.

City Hall and Other Attractions

Often, the locations of the art installations are attractions worth visiting on their own. City Hall, with its distinctive glass pyramid, is lovely do see both day and night. You can take in a virtual tour right now.

In the heat of summer, the splash pool and fountains, pictured above, are a family favourite! There are change rooms available, with plenty of seating in the shade. In the winter, this area becomes a public skating rink. It's a great spot to take a break from the festivals.

Here are just a few other places worth checking out while you're in the area.

The Alberta Gallery of Art: This unique building was finished in 2010, built in the same location as the old gallery, and using portions of the original building. Visually striking, both inside and out, it now has state of the art technology protecting the art inside. While there, you can pause for a snack outdoors in Terrace Cafe, or enjoy fine dining and tapas in Zinc.

Winspear Centre: Take in a variety of musical performances in all genres - and a few non-musical ones, as well. Check out their calendar to see what's happening during your visit. At the time I write this, they just completed their Open Door Festival, the Barra MacNeils will soon be performing, and the 2012 Canadian National Bodybuilding Championships pre-judging will be held. If you have a chance to take in the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, I highly recommend it. I would also recommend any performance that uses their stunning pipe organ! Well worth it.

The Citadel Theatre: Even if you don't have time to take in a show, check out the Citadel Theatre for its beautiful, park-like interior, maintained by the Muttart Conservatory. It's a popular stop for people who work in the area to have their lunches under tropical fronds or near flowing water. There is also a Second Cup Cafe and The Eastbound Bistro. There are theatre performances to meet all tastes; the 2012/2013 season, for example, ranges from A Few Good Men to Monty Python's Spamalot!

Muttart Conservatory: This one is a little farther afield. You can walk to it using the pedestrian bridge across the North Saskatewan River (I highly recommend walking the river valley park system), drive (there is plenty of free parking) or take the bus. Whatever you choose, bring your camera and make a day of it! This unique conservatory has seen some recent renovations, including the addition of Culina at the Muttart. Three of the conservatory's pyramids are permanent structures representing different climate zones; arid, temperate and tropical. The fourth pyramid has seasonal displays that change every few months. The central lobby has changing art displays, there are classrooms for interactive events and much more. Don't forget to explore the grounds outdoors, too!

These are just a start - there are so many more I could list!

Time for a visit?

Have you ever visiting Edmonton, Alberta?

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      RuralFloridaLiving 4 years ago

      Enjoyed your article. The festival in Edmonton looks like it will be a great success and a lot of fun to participate in.

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      CatJGB 4 years ago

      I love Canada in general and would love to visit again, Edmonton would be on my list.

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