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Inspiring Growth Through The Power of Art

"I know when I walk around the gallery. I see the city of Windsor - a young, diverse, energized, creative audience engaged with art," said Jennifer Matotek.
Author: Layan Barakat
Photographer: Trevor Booth
1 year ago
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With over 20 years of experience in the sector, Jennifer brought her unique knowledge of arts and culture to the Windsor-Essex community since taking on the role of Executive Director at Art Windsor-Essex in April 2020. She began her journey into the art world, taking on roles as an educator and a curator. Then, in 2013, she took over the directorship of the Dunlop Art Gallery in Regina, Saskatchewan, an art gallery that runs as a department in the city’s public library.

“That opened my eyes to what you can do in a more open, community-centered environment. We would have an art opening at the Dunlop, and the whole community would come out,” said Jennifer. “It was a shift from events we would have at TIFF or The Power Plant [Contemporary Art Gallery], where you see many movers, shakers, arts, and culture-makers. It was different when I would have a reception at the Dunlop; it was all social classes, all walks of life, and everybody from different economic backgrounds. That was such an enriching opportunity for me. Bringing the lessons around engaging and inspiring a whole community to be excited about and contribute to your work has helped me since coming to Windsor”.

Jennifer began her role as Executive Director at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, forcing her and the rest of the team at AWE to reimagine themselves as an art gallery without a functional building.

“That quickly led to us hitting the pause button, and it allowed the board to work on our strategic plan and figure out what does art do? How does art function? How does art unite people in our region, whether virtually or physically outside? What’s our role as a presenter for art education? What do we actually want to be and mean to people? That’s when we landed on a new mission for the gallery: ‘inspiring growth through the power of art’ and our vision to be a person-centered and community-driven art gallery for the 21st century. It was challenging but also, in a strange way, exciting to rethink our identity and our role in such a strange and pivotal moment in human history”.

The AWE team aims to help Windsorites reimagine art by implementing multidisciplinary, citizen-engaged approaches to their exhibitions.

“There is so much creativity embedded in so many different professions in Windsor-Essex that go beyond visual arts,” said Jennifer. “These people are often creators, makers, and creative thinkers in different ways; there is an important way that the work we do at AWE can tie into different kinds of work people in the community are doing and even see the work they do from different perspectives.”

Recent exhibitions at AWE have tapped into various arts, science, and engineering sectors to create exhibitions. In May 2022, the gallery launched “Grey Matter: Your Brain on Art”, curated by  Julie Rae Tucker, and Dr. Lori Buchanan, a neuroscientist at the University of Windsor. The exhibition, conceived as a research project, looked at what happens to the human brain when we look at art.

In February 2023, AWE opened a digital, immersive art installation funded by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario. The project, titled ‘Flowing Forces’ and created by Montreal’s multimedia entertainment studio Moment Factory, showcases selected artworks from AWE’s nearly 4000-piece collection in new ways. “We’re thinking beyond what a more narrow definition of visual art might be. We’re not about art for art’s sake; we’re more about wanting to inspire growth through the power of art.”

Jennifer and her team at AWE welcome all community members to stop by and participate in their programs and events and immerse themselves in the local arts scene. They also encourage community members to step outside and take in the artworks from their collection placed throughout the community.

“Walk around your neighbourhood and appreciate the public art outdoors. Some of the work we’ve been doing since I came here in 2020 has involved putting reproductions of artwork out in the community. We currently have 8 downtown, 11 on the St.Clair College campus, and 5 in Amherstburg. In the spring, we will put over 20 art reproductions in other BIAs across Windsor.”

For more information, please visit www.artwindsoressex.ca.

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