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Blog by Ursula Thiessen

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Regarding Location

The following Blog was an article in the Winnipeg Free Press

Winnipeg Free Press


Location, location, location

Exchange District realtor takes advantage of proximity of local artists to everyone's advantage

A downtown condominium salesman has a plan to bridge a gap he sees between people who are moving to the Exchange District and the community of artists that's already there. And like some other successful entrepreneurial schemes, this one is part marketing and part community service.

Artists will attest to the changes in the neighbourhood. Painter Les Newman says rising rents played a part in his decision to move his studio from one Exchange District building to another over the winter. Newman says the proliferation of high-priced condos in the area has bumped up rents in many neighbourhood buildings, including spaces that had previously been ideal for working artists because they were located in buildings not yet viable for pricey renovations.

"It's gone from a neighbourhood of artists to a neighbourhood of arts administrators," Newman says with a chuckle. "Because they're about the only people in the arts community that can afford the rent there."

Now, condo salesman Bill Thiessen wants to use the work of local artists to dress up the units he is selling, giving artists a chance at earning more income from art rental or sales fees.

Thiessen says the atmosphere of an artists' village is part of what draws people to live in the Exchange District, but he acknowledged that the influx of new wealthy neighbours comes at a price for the people who established that atmosphere.

"There's a gap there, for sure," he says.

Thiessen notes that he has found very little local visual art in the scores of Exchange condo spaces he has toured.

"I don't see enough local art. People will spend a few hundred thousand dollars on a place, and tens of thousands more on furniture, and then they put $220 worth of framed prints from a poster shop on the walls."

Thiessen says he imagines one day seeing artists' enclaves within old Exchange buildings filled with affordable living and working spaces. He suggests the Tilsner Artists Cooperative in St. Paul, Minn., as a possible example for developers to follow. In the meantime, in an attempt to start building some kind of momentum toward bridging the gap, he arranges to hang local art in his show suites. Wanda Koop was the first artist to help Thiessen out this way, and recently Thiessen watched as his nephew, painter Christian Worthington, hung pieces in a condo on Bannatyne Avenue.

The installation on Bannatyne marks the second time Thiessen and Worthington have worked together, but Thiessen says potential buyers are free to make deals directly with the artist.

"The opportunity to have your work shown is never a bad thing," says Worthington as he tried to decide where to hang another, smaller piece. He keeps a work space on Albert Street, and looks forward to seeing many of his paintings hang in private collections.

"Having a painting in someone's home means you get to pay rent and buy more art supplies," he says. "And I've walked paintings to places for Bill. There's something beautiful about that proximity between creator and potential buyer."

Displaying well-selected art makes Thiessen's selling job easier, while exposing local work to an artistically needy audience. Thiessen calls it a "win-win-win situation."

Though a family connection between artist and realtor gave rise to this particular installation, Thiessen says he will welcome inquiries from all local artists who want to arrange for him to see their work. "There will be things that I would not put up in this kind of setting," he says, "but I'll look at their work if they're interested in showing it to me."


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