The marriage of music and art

The Cluster New Music & Integrated Arts Festival is the perfect marriage of music and art, two creative mediums that go together like peanut butter and jam.

Heidi Ouellette and Luke Nickel began planning the festival in 2008 with the intention of creating an event that provided a venue for new and emerging artists to display their work and push the boundaries of art to the limit.

“Luke and I started the festival because we wanted to see and hear more music and art in the city that was truly new, exciting, risk-taking, and high quality,” states Ouellette, one of the event’s co-directors. “We wanted to create the opportunity for artists to push the boundaries of their own work, and to collaborate.”

Cluster takes place over the course of eight days at the Urban Shaman Gallery, featuring 30+ artists and musicians from Winnipeg and around the globe.

“We generally focus on a theme which really helps guide who we work with,” says Ouellette regarding the process for choosing performers. “We always have our eyes open for potential festival artists; things fall in our lap, friends recommend interesting acts [or] works they see. We try to have a good balance of visiting and local artists, emerging and more established people.”

“Winnipeg has such a special, thriving arts community and Cluster is an event that helps bring this diverse group of people together to create, to experience something new, and to get inspired.”

Some of the featured performers this year include Lori Freedman, a Montreal-based clarinetist, and Ensemble Paramirabo, a woodwind/string/piano quintet. Also scheduled to perform are Winnipeg-based musicians Slattern, and Mise En Scene.

“The exhibit I’m looking most forward to is definitely TSAWORKS’ installation,” states Ouellette. “Luke and I have admired his work for years, and to see this amazing structure come to life and completely transform the performance space is going to be amazing.”

The structure that Ouellette is referring to is an art installation from artist Martin Böttger, also known as TSAWORKS, that will literally utilize the entire gallery in order to convert the festival space itself into a geometric work of art.

The festival will come to close with a concert called Reasons, a group performance from almost all of the artists scheduled to attend, including improvisation, collaboration, a Sound Brush—an instrument created by David Storen that includes balloons and vacuums—and finally a performance from local surf noir trio, This Hisses.

Given that this is the fourth year of the festival, it certainly has grown over the years, specifically in size: it doubled in budget and audience by its second year and tripled in number of performers.

“After doing it for a number of years, we have become more organized and things run smoother,” says Ouellette. “Beyond those reasonably measurable changes, it has also evolved quite a bit. We constantly re-evaluate and experiment with the structure of the festival [and] how we present the works.”

“The last thing we want is for the festival to feel predictable, stagnant, or uninspired. Every year is a blank slate, and a new adventure.”

The Cluster New Music & Integrated Arts Festival spans from Mar. 9 – 16 at the Urban Shaman Gallery. Student passes are $25 each and can be purchased by emailing or by visiting McNally Robinson Bookstore. Check out for more information.