WAG’s reworked gift shop brighter and better connected
The new gift shop at the Winnipeg Art Gallery will give visitors a glimpse at what the future holds for the 49-year-old downtown landmark.
The 2,520-square-foot Gallery Shop, designed by Michael Maltzan Architects (which also designed the Inuit Art Centre) and Cibinet Architecture, opens to the public Saturday. It sits at a transition area between past and future, between the original building and the Inuit Art Centre, where construction continues.
It’s a stark difference, one Stephen Borys, the WAG’s director and chief executive officer, says is a milestone in the phased unveiling of spaces that will transform of the gallery.
Visitors can’t see the new addition’s interior yet, but a visit to the Gallery Shop suggests increased natural light will make the Inuit Art Centre far brighter than the original building. In comparison to the Eckhardt Hall, the large main-floor space that has welcomed visitors to the WAG since 1971, the Inuit Art Centre may resemble a shiny day in the Arctic, like sunlight reflecting off a snowy landscape.
Construction for the Inuit Art Centre scattered most of the WAG gift shop’s inventory. Sherri Van Went, the WAG’s retail operations manager, says the gallery sent many of its items for sale to its WAG@TheForks location in the meantime.
“For almost two years we’ve been working out of a temporary boutique on the third level, so that put us in a position to reduce our offerings,” Van Went says. “This is incredibly exciting to be back on the main floor, with visibility to the street, which is something we’ve never had before. It’s a complete game-changer for us.”
The Gallery Shop’s main feature is its ability to provide window-shopping opportunities for pedestrians strolling down Memorial Boulevard. It also has its own entrance, but for today’s grand opening, it will serve as an exit only, as the WAG adapts the new space to the province’s COVID-19 regulations.
A small seating space exists in the gift shop as well. A café will be part of the Inuit Art Centre, and Van Went foresees visitors enjoying a coffee at the gift shop while gazing out at Memorial Boulevard.
The Gallery Shop also has new storage furniture, which visitors may overlook but is a big deal for any retail business. Vertical cabinets bolster the shop’s jewelry department, allowing for necklaces and dangling earrings to be better displayed and leaving more space in tabletop cabinets to display rings, bracelets and other small pieces.
For Winnipeg jeweller Jake Freeman, who creates necklaces and earrings with leather, caribou fur, bark and intricate beadwork, the new space means new opportunities to show her works.
The gift shop offers works from across the country, as well as focusing on pieces from Manitobans and Inuit artists.
“It’s great to see pieces from artists from all over; you get inspiration from them,” Freeman says.
In the print department, flat storage drawers are an improvement for showing and storing larger prints. Gallery Shop staff have filed works by community — prints from Nunavut communities such as Pagnirtung, Baker Lake, and Kinngait can be seen, as well as works from Manitoba printmakers — instead of leaning them in a rack like a stack of records.
“We didn’t have the ability to store these before. We had to shrink-wrap them,” Van Went says.
Among the works that highlight today’s grand opening will be 30 prints from the 2020 Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection; the WAG has the first print from each 50-print run — highly valued by art collectors — available for viewing and sale.
Stone sculptures by Inuit carvers are also on display, and they include information about the artists, as well as geological descriptions of the stones the artists used, provided by the University of Manitoba, Van Went says.
Also available amid the toys, jigsaw puzzles and art books for sale are skin-care products, and a ubiquitous symbol of 2020 — artisanal hand sanitizer, scented with cinnamon and cloves.
Arts and Life Editor
Alan Small was named the editor of the Free Press Arts and Life section in January 2013 after almost 15 years at the paper in a variety of editing roles.
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