KDays adds artist in residence AJA Louden

· The Pulse

Explore Edmonton has chosen AJA Louden as the first-ever artist in residence for KDays as part of its efforts to bring Edmonton's culture to the forefront of the fair.

"I had the idea last year to try and start an artist-in-residence program, but we weren't quite ready for it," Fawnda Mithrush, the program manager for arts at Explore Edmonton, told Taproot. "What I did feel was important was that we start figuring out how to do it, and to do it right."

That meant planting the seeds for a mural garden with Louden, Evan Rast, and Kayla Bellerose (a.k.a. bb iskwew). That resulted in Louden's mural The Celebration and his appointment as artist in residence for 2024. KDays takes place from July 19 to 28.

"I want people to walk through the fair, see the things they expect to see, like huge corn dogs or deep-fried pickles or whatever, and then all (of a) sudden get hit with something surprising," Louden said. "It's like art that's hidden in plain sight. Once you see it, you can't unsee it."

This year, Louden will create and curate more murals for the garden, including some on cubic structures that allow for multiple murals per cube. He said at least four other artists will participate. The cubes are portable and may travel to other sites after this year's KDays.

Louden will facilitate other art throughout the site, including "art hunts" where attendees can win original artworks, including Louden's works from his recently adopted practice in the fibre art medium.

"I don't normally sell those pieces, and don't take commissions for them at all," he said. "This will be one rare chance for people to be able to get their hands on one of those textile pieces for me."

An artist poses in front of a large outdoor mural that depicts flowers, athletes, artists, and more.

KDays's first artist in residence, AJA Louden, poses in front of his 2023 mural The Celebration. Its creation was part of an experiment by Explore Edmonton to find out what an artist in residence might add to the fair. (Supplied)

Most of the results of the artist-in-residence program will be installed by opening day, but Louden said some works will be "slowly revealed" throughout the fair. Visitors can keep an eye out for Louden's signature character, Piney P, who he said is likely to appear in multiple places.

Mithrush praised Louden's knack for art that considers wayfinding, a term that describes how people navigate physical spaces.

Louden said he used last year's fair to explore "circulation patterns," like flows of traffic, sites of congregation, and overlooked spaces. That process will inform work Louden called "creative interventions."

"As an artist, I love to collaborate. I am involved in a lot of mentorships. I'm always trying to help provide platforms for the next generations of emerging artists in this area," he said.

Louden's role isn't the only new element of art at this year's fair. Mithrush promised bigger musical acts, additional programming at the renovated Klondike Park, and the results of KDays's second annual Design Competition.

The first project selected by that competition is Pop-Upsickles by onetwosix design. It's a set of Popsicle-shaped benches that will return this year. The new winning project is shade-improving structures by Next Architecture that "hark back to train boxcars," Mithrush said.

Mithrush said the many changes are part of Explore Edmonton's KDays Reimagine, a project launched two years ago to refresh the fair over a decade while preserving its "nostalgia." Her role is to expand local arts programming. Another example of its implementation is last year's arts programming at the Cristal Palace Spiegeltent.

Mithrush said other pillars include greater integration with the innovation economy and fostering equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Louden didn't share his exact artist fee or project budget for this year, but said it is "about the same" as the $50,000 to be split evenly between artist fee and project budget next year.

Next up for Louden is his first solo textiles show at Alberta Craft Council on May 25. He said it consists of large-scale, Afrofuturist tapestries.

As for KDays news, Mithrush expects the main stage concert lineup to arrive in May.