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Winnipeg arts maven inducted into Order of Canada

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Meeka Walsh

Among the latest group of outstanding Manitobans slated to receive the Order of Canada is Meeka Walsh, the long-time editor of the arts magazine Border Crossings and a prominent member of the Winnipeg arts scene.

“I am surprised, delighted and honoured,” says Walsh. “It is nice to be recognized nationally.”

She notes that her partner in Border Crossings and in life, Robert Enright, was inducted into the Order of Canada in 2006. “It was lovely,” she says of the ceremony. “It was inspiring to hear about the accomplishments of the other inductees.”

Walsh is an award-winning writer, art critic and curator in her own right, with a degree in art history from the University of Winnipeg. She notes 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.

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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.

She notes that she often touches on topics relating to Israel and Jewish identity in her editorials in Border Crossings.

Border Crossings originally came into existence in the mid-1970s (it was then called Arts Manitoba). Walsh came on board in 1982, at a time when the magazine was struggling to survive.

“I never thought it would turn into a career,” she says.

Her and Enright’s vision for the non-profit quarterly magazine going forward 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 most recent issue, for example, features interviews with  Iranian-born, New York-based artist Shirin Neshat, Dutch-born photographer Lidwien Van de Ven and Irish-born artist Les Levine (his father was Jewish, his mother Catholic), who lives in Toronto. There are also feature stories on artist Moyra Davey, dancer, choreographer, sculptor and performance artist Francoise Sullivan, and artist Fred Sandback, as well as book reviews, reviews of art exhibitions across Canada and commentaries.

The magazine includes ads from virtually every art gallery across Canada, as well as galleries in the U.S. and Europe.

“There are very few magazines in Canada that compare with Border Crossings,” Walsh points out. “We have a subscription base of 4,000, but our readership is much larger than that. Our subscribers include leading libraries and institutes in America and Europe.”

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 all major German institutes, Walsh notes.

Although the magazine aims to be international in scope, Walsh points out that local artist and performers are not neglected. “Winnipeg has a very rich cultural art scene,” she says. “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 says. “The magazine itself is also a work of art.”

She adds that she, Enright and the staff work hard at maintaining their subscriber base. “It’s alarming to see so many bookstores closing,” she notes. “It is always a challenge to keep up our support. We appreciate the support we do receive from generous foundations, corporations, government and individual patrons.”

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.