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Champion of Winnipeg art scene receives prestigious University of Winnipeg alumni award

By MYRON LOVE Thirty-five years ago, Meeka Walsh and her life partner, Robert Enright, took charge of a struggling arts magazine.  Under their leadership, the duo transformed the renamed “Border Crossings” into an award-winning and internationally known arts publication and Walsh, as editor, has become arguably our community’s leading advocate for and promoter of local artists in all fields of artistic endeavour.

In 2017, Walsh was inducted into the Order of Canada for her literary efforts. And two weeks ago – on Friday, October 15 – the award-winning writer, art critic and curator was the recipient of another prestigious honour when she was presented the University of Winnipeg Alumni Association’s highest honour – that being the Distinguished Alumni Award – during the university’s 121st Convocation.

“I am deeply honoured to have been chosen for this award,” says the Class of 1984 Art History graduate.

 In his October 7th writeup accompanying the presentation, University of Winnipeg digital communications co-ordinator Brandon Logan noted that “in her nearly three decades as editor of the quarterly Border Crossings, Walsh has put Winnipeg art on the map in a way that no other individual has in the city’s rich cultural history.

“Her regular essays on language, art, ideas, books, places, and much more have long been a fixture of the magazine, as have in-depth interviews with national and international artists such as Yoko Ono, Michael Snow, and fellow UWinnipeg alum Guy Maddin.”

 In an article that this writer published in the Canadian Jewish News five years ago – coinciding with Walsh’s Order of Canada induction, she noted that she grew up in an artistic environment. Her mother, the late Faye Settler, for years operated The Curiosity Shop and Upstairs Gallery, an antique store in downtown Winnipeg.

Walsh’s roots in Canada go back to among the earliest Jewish settlers in this region. Her great-grandfather on her mother’s side, Rabbi Jacob Wasserman, was the first rabbi on the Prairies west of Winnipeg. Her other great-grandfather was also a rabbi.  Her other great-grandfather was Solomon Brownstone, who was a teacher and rabbi. He came to Canada in the 1870s and travelled to Palestine around 1903 to help settle the land as part of the Zionist Aliyah. He died in Tiberius in 1907.

Walsh further noted that she often touches on topics relating to Israel and Jewish identity in her editorials in “Border Crossings.”

 Walsh’s and Enright’s vision for the non-profit quarterly magazine was that the publication should be one that crossed borders – both geographically and artistically – hence the new name, “Border Crossings”.

The magazine now offers features and commentary on painters, sculptors, authors, filmmakers, performance artists, music and dance from around the world.

The magazine includes ads from many art galleries across Canada. Some of the venues include the New York Public Library, libraries at Columbia and Yale universities, the Metropolitan Museum of Public Art, the Chicago Institute of Art and many major European cultural institutions, Walsh noted.

Although the magazine aims to be international in scope, Walsh noted that local artists and performers are not neglected. “Winnipeg has a very rich cultural art scene,” she said.

“In Border Crossings, we also try to recognize new Winnipeg-based artists and introduce them to the wider world. We help them reach larger audiences.

While “Border Crossings” does have an active website, Walsh says that the focus remains on engaging readers in print.

“We spend a lot of attention on the magazine’s appearance,” she observed. “The magazine itself is also a work of art.”“Border Crossings” has won dozens of national Canadian magazine awards and Walsh herself was previously awarded a Gold Medal by the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 2007.

Throughout her illustrious career as a writer, editor, art critic, and curator, Walsh has been a champion of Winnipeg’s local art scene. In 2003, the Western Magazine Awards honoured Walsh with a Lifetime Achievement Award. She was also awarded a Gold Medal by the Royal Canadian Academy in 2007 for her contribution to the arts in Canada.

In addition to Walsh’s guidance of “Border Crossings,” she is a celebrated author whose short fiction has been published in anthologies such as “Oxford Book of Stories by Canadian Women in English.” Among her works are the short story collection “The Garden of Earthly Intimacies,” published in 1996, and, most recently the essay collection “Malleable Forms,” which was released last May

“Malleable Forms,”which was published by Winnipeg-based Arbeiter Ring Publishers. is a  “collection of forty-seven stories encompassing topics including literature, painting, photography, music, family, dogs, spirituality and other whimsical subjects.

Walsh is proud to say that the introduction to “Malleable Forms” was written by international critic and art writer Barry Schwabsky.

 Walsh adds that she was recently featured on the international art publication Momus’s podcast speaking with guest host Jarrett Earnest about  her new book and her overall lifelong engagement with art.

“I am happiest when I am writing,” she told Earnest.

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