Building the arts in a borough

Independent gallery avidly supports contemporary art in the community

Photo provided by Melanie Rocan.

Art director Alexandra Keim (known for her work with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights) and gallery assistant Kristina Vannan are never bored despite the deceptive stillness of the approximately 3,000-square-foot gallery space of Actual Contemporary.

Fresh off the unveiling of Mélanie Rocan’s new multimedia collection Beaux Désastres/Beautiful Disasters and Heat – a ceramic collaboration between artists Zachari Logan, Osvaldo Yero, and Grace Nickle and soon a fourth, Lin Xu – Keim recalled the night of Sept. 5, when the exhibits debuted.

“[It was] very joyful – there were hundreds of people throughout the gallery including supporters of all the artists. Mélanie is very integrated within the arts community. No anxiety, it goes up there with boredom.”

Beautiful Disasters is very gestural and relies heavily on juxtaposition exploring the relation between the subconscious and waking state of the artistic process.

“Her sculptures are very playful, almost child-like as they jump out of her canvases like an extension of her paintings,” said Keim.

Entering its second year since its inception in July 2014, Actual Contemporary is now one of the largest independent galleries in Winnipeg. Keim is nine months into her job as art director.

“The focus has changed towards a more community-based art gallery and the model is both commercial and public. Sometimes exhibitions are not easily sellable, and more experimental like the back room,” Keim told the Manitoban. Actual Contemporary’s back room currently features a Scream Machine aimed at a Crowd in Suspense.

“We are trying to reach the bounds between local, national, and international. A balance between for-profit and not-for-profit, but our focus is mainly on Manitoban and Prairie artists.”

This includes an upcoming collaboration with the Video Pool Media Arts Centre entitled Age of Catastrophe and a painting exhibition from Neil Peter Dyck, From Bluffs to the Holler.

“We are constantly in contact with artists to prepare them with framing and square footage for layout design. Age of Catastrophe includes a lot of logistics for us to host these high-tech artists,” said Keim.

“The theme behind these two exhibitions is a contrast of high and low tech,” she explained.

Dyck uses found wood pieces that are taped, painted, and beautifully layered to create his works, whereas everything with Video Pool will have to do with “electronics, interactivity, film, and video.”

These exhibitions debut Nov. 13 and 14, respectively.

One featured painting in Dyck’s collection is an abstract landscape entitled Anticipation Gone Up The Drain. Vannan notes its Haida influence and the meshing of mountain and prairie features.

“We see ourselves as one of the leading contemporary art platforms within the prairies, if not within Canada,” said Keim.

Does Keim believe Actual Contemporary achieved this through international efforts or local community building?

“Check, check, all of the above,” she said, with an optimistic smile.

Future collaborations include a holiday season exhibition with a working title of Push, Pull, and Drag; artists such as Ian August and Erica Mendritzki; and a solo exhibition in the new year of current Heat artist Grace Nickel.

Actual Contemporary has not only survived past its first year, it now thrives as it matures into its next. This and similar independent galleries are a pinnacle of the art scene across Western Canada; gallant artists and gallery-goers owe a great deal to these pioneering spirits.


Actual Contemporary is located at 300 Ross Ave. For more information, visit