Off the wall: Synonym team makes public art a priority

By Brenlee Coates

Even if you haven’t heard of Andrew Eastman and Chloe Chafe, you’ve likely seen their work.
As Synonym Art Consultation, the two seamlessly marry artists with meaningful projects while curating businesses’ walls with high-quality, contemporary art. Usually, they also throw parties to celebrate each art opening – and they’ve quietly become the social event of those evenings.
But lately, their accomplishments are getting harder to pin down. Off last year’s successful inaugural Wall-to-Wall festival (a mural exhibition with daily events coinciding with the week of Nuit Blanche), they are coming back with an even more extensive version of arguably their biggest undertaking to date.
The festival was birthed in West Broadway, a natural choice for the enthusiasts. “This is the best neighbourhood in Winnipeg, in my opinion,” says Andrew, sitting in a booth at The Tallest Poppy. “It feels like you’d come up off a subway and see it.”
They were warmly received by the West Broadway BIZ and neighbourhood businesses to host their first “experimental” festival. Some enduring pieces from the first Wall-to-Wall include an already iconic Dany Reede mural that graces the interior of The Handsome Daughter, a thoughtful piece called “Girl on Blanket” by Natalie Baird inside Thom Bargen Coffee & Tea, and a colourful exterior mural collaboration between Gabrielle Funk and Takashi Iwasaki that makes itself known at the local Food Fare.

Dany Reede's mural at The Handsome Daughter.
Dany Reede’s mural at The Handsome Daughter.
"Girl on Blanket" by Natalie Baird at Thom Bargen Coffee & Tea.
“Girl on Blanket” by Natalie Baird at Thom Bargen Coffee & Tea.
The mural collaboration between Gabrielle Funk and Takashi Iwasaki at Food Fare.
The mural collaboration between Gabrielle Funk and Takashi Iwasaki at Food Fare.

This year, the festival will expand into more uncharted territory. “People trust us now,” says Chloe. “We have kind of the track record now.”
Growing downtown
So far, the pair has already signed up downtown Winnipeg to benefit from its enduring public art and be part of the Wall-to-Wall celebrations. They’re also approaching Osborne Village. “We want to help downtown; we want to rejuvenate the Village,” says Chloe. “We want to take the city to the next level.
“Public art is just one of those things that’s really missing in the city… The second you start beautifying a neighbourhood, it makes people respect it more.”
Public art is what’s at the root of all of Synonym’s activity – from bringing gallery-quality exhibitions into public spaces like restaurants and businesses, or introducing permanent fixtures on building facades. “We’re really about maintaining that high level of contemporary art and democratizing it. So everyone driving to work to their 9 to 5 who might never go to a gallery sees it,” says Andrew. “It’s bringing what’s happening in the galleries onto the street,” adds Chloe.
Benefitting artists
Alongside the public, artists really benefit from this approach; they not only gain from the exposure, but win credibility for being able to tackle large-scale mural projects.
“To be able to market yourself as an exterior mural artist, you can be fully employed all year and go across the world. There’s such a demand for it,” says Chloe.
Symbiotically, the artists Synonym works with have been growing along with the scale of its projects and reputation. “Some of the first artists we started working with are now full-time artists,” says Andrew. “That’s not just because of us; we just helped to kind of light a fire under their butts and show them that they can do it.”
Rather than dwelling on what’s lacking, Synonym is inspired by the opportunities in Winnipeg’s landscape. “You can do anything,” says Chloe. “Everyone we know is just opening a business, opening a restaurant,” says Andrew. “You can just raise your voice and do something here.”
Working with established partners like Art City, Graffiti Gallery, Rainbow Trout Music Festival, Culture Days and Nuit Blanche Winnipeg, Chloe and Andrew will help bring facelifts to new areas and dynamic events to the city with Wall-to-Wall 2015 – plus add to their growing repertoire in West Broadway.

Last year's Wall-to-Wall festival was celebrated exclusively in West Broadway.
Last year’s Wall-to-Wall festival was celebrated exclusively in West Broadway.

In tandem with the return of Wall-to-Wall to the area, Synonym has an ongoing project centred in West Broadway with The Tallest Poppy Residency Program. For two days each month, artists work alongside patrons, fielding any questions about their process and interacting with the public, getting fed, and then leaving behind a site-specific art project in the restaurant.

Christian Procter at work as the artist-in-residence at The Tallest Poppy.
Christian Procter at work as the artist-in-residence at The Tallest Poppy.

After many experimental projects, the duo behind Synonym is finally starting to be able to predict its next move. “For the first time, like today, I feel like I can actually see a year from now,” says Andrew, who predicts Wall-to-Wall will become a full-fledged not-for-profit festival in 2016.
“It’s just been a lot of test tube babies,” says Chloe. “Every handful of months, it’s like, ‘cool, that experiment’s done.'”
For upcoming events, keep an eye on, or find them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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