Arts & Life

Spur Winnipeg brings politics, arts, ideas back home (or reminds us they never left)

You know the spiel. Globalization has made state borders porous– goods ‘n services soar from anywhere into your living room and foreign policies come attached to free trade agreements. Social media knits identities across oceans– country or nation-based loyalties are no longer the default and one person’s revolution is another person’s Tweet.

This 21st century narrative has its proponents and detractors, neither of which will find a new recruit in this article. The focus here is that discussions on globalization – whether a net ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – should include rigorous discussions on the domestic, the regional, and the local. It is a tricky balance, but one valued by this week’s Spur festival  in Winnipeg.

Spur is a collection of events – from poetry readings to policy panels – that discuss the forces of change in Canadian politics, arts, and ideas in a way that is especially relevant to the city it is held in. It acknowledges the impact of a highly connected world, but realizes that globalization is as much an effect of local processes as a cause of them.

Spur provides a space for people to get into the details of the problems that really affect the lives of those north of the 49th parallel. Crimea’s fate as it sits between Ukraine and Russia is important, and so is the every-four-year American presidential election that Canadians watch so closely, but their impact on the experience of life in the political arrangement that is Canada is easily overestimated.

The municipal policies and strategic direction of the City of Winnipeg will almost certainly affect Winnipeggers more. How Manitobans and Canadians think of the North – symbolically and economically – in the 21st century will affect them more. And how Canadian governments and non-Aboriginal people foster relationships with First Nations will affect all these groups more.

SPUR isn’t blind to the forces of globalization. It doesn’t pitch a naïve ‘local versus global’ tension as its mantra. In fact, one of the central themes is how to discern meaningful trends from the trillions of digital information we create online. What is the Signal in the Noise? My own experience and interest in disaster management sees this theme in the context of communication during crises. Who owns the story? And if government needs the ability to provide clear communication during disasters, how is that power mitigated during political events? The ongoing Snowden saga and protesters in the Ukraine receiving text message warnings from government pose difficult questions for democratic governance in the age of social media.

Spur is ideally like the best conversations you have with a neighbour or in a coffee shop, amplified by organizational sophistication and supported by an array of public and private partners. It allows us to glance at the international events that anchor our newsfeeds and Twitter accounts while delving into politics, arts, and ideas that will more directly shape the places we call home.

Full details can be found at


Johanu Botha straddles the academic–practitioner divide by simultaneously studying and working in the field of public policy and administration. He will be pursuing a PhD in public policy at Carleton’s School of Public Policy in Fall 2014, and is this year’s Spur Winnipeg Public Fellow.