Portage Place has a new face, and she’s a real fan

Olga Pogrebinskaia is the marketing director for Portage Place.

Olga Pogrebinskaia is the marketing coordinator for Portage Place.

By Brenlee Coates

Olga Pogrebinskaia had what you would think to be the distinct displeasure of crafting Portage Place’s response after its “fan” account propped up.
“I embraced it and said, ‘OK, let’s talk about it,’” says Pogrebinskaia, marketing coordinator of the shopping centre.
“I realized it was someone pushing us to move toward social media. Now we’re a part of the conversation.”
The Portage Place FAN Twitter account sometimes bolstered the mall’s image by dissing Polo Park, though most of its comments were irreverent and, quite often, hilarious.
She admits the way Portage Place was pushed to enter social media wasn’t ideal, but she was glad that the mall was in the forefront of people’s minds.
“I’ve had my frustrations with it,” confesses Pogrebinskaia. “Now I’m a little flattered that we had so many followers.”
Pogrebinskaia’s ability to cut through negativity and see opportunity is exactly why she’s perfect for her role at Portage Place. She sees the challenges for the mall as a chance to make an imprint on Winnipeg and one of its major landmarks.
“It’s all about having a vision and pushing through it, no matter how many hours it takes or how many naysayers it gets,” says Pogrebinskaia. “It just pushes you to do better and better.”
Luckily, Pogrebinskaia isn’t alone in her attempts to reimagine the mall and the downtown core.
“We had so many alliances form over (the fan Twitter account),” she says. “Other businesses, the media, the Downtown BIZ. They picked us up.”
The Downtown BIZ has partnered with Portage Place in dreaming up events and helping boost its image. Their next joint project is erecting a permanent, enclosed patio where the temporary patio sits now.
Though she’s working against some negative perceptions and stereotypes about the downtown mall, Pogrebinskaia didn’t have to combat her own.
“I fell in love with Portage Place when I first came to Canada,” she says.
“It is the first place that you see as a newcomer or if you’re taking the bus.
“It feels so homey.”
Downtown revitalization aside, Pogrebinskaia has a big job to do representing an entire mall and its many tenants, on a lower budget than most.
“For marketing, it’s just a whole different beast,” says Pogrebinskaia. “When you promote, you have to make sure you hit everybody. You’re promoting the community.”
As we linger at Starbucks in Edmonton Court, Pogrebinskaia exchanges a familiar greeting with one of her tenants from Mesh Hair Design.
“I know pretty much all of my tenants by name,” says Pogrebinskaia – though it appears she doesn’t just know their names but knows them.
“People don’t want to deal with a title, they want to deal with a person,” she explains.
Though personalizing interactions comes naturally; “I’m so casual. I will never not be me,” Pogrebinskaia also finds time to interact with visitors to Portage Place – not exactly something that’s expected in her job description.
“I’m at customer service every day. I need to know what my customers want,” says Pogrebinskaia.
Wanting to encourage patronage from her neighbouring businesses and get to know regular patrons, Pogrebinskaia offered a contest over the lunch hour for six days where people “fished” for a chance to win a hot tub.
She worked the event herself, and drew tons of information from even the one or two minutes of interaction she had with visitors.
It’s her above-and-beyond devotion and perseverance that makes Pogrebinskaia stand out at her job.
“My approach has always been, ‘why can’t we?’” she says.
“I understand that downtown Winnipeg isn’t New York, but why can’t it be?”
With new local entrepreneurs moving in shortly, lunch-hour concerts and more events in the works, Pogrebinskaia has helped poise the shopping centre for a revival. “My strategy is to make it for everybody; make people feel welcome.
“I love everything about downtown. You can see it’s really on the uprise and everybody knows it – and people that don’t know it will see it soon.”
Like The Little Engine that Could, Pogrebinskaia may just make a believer out of everyone.

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Chic Gamine lends its ears to young performers

Chic Gamine vocalist/musicians Alexa Dirks (left) and Andrina Turenne (second from right) mentored young talent before their performance at Folk Fest.

Chic Gamine vocalist/musicians Alexa Dirks (left) and Andrina Turenne (second from right) mentored young talent before their performance at Folk Fest.

Members of Chic Gamine of past and present had a bit of a whirlwind Winnipeg Folk Fest this year.
Debuting mostly all new music, the local group played the main stage for a full set for the very first time – and shared the honour with former member Ariane Jean, inviting her onstage to perform a song.
The moment was touching and encapsulates the essence of the group: its talent and charisma is boundless, but the members never lose touch with their humble roots.
This humility along with their heart-stopping harmonies and never-back-down, chase-your-dreams, all-in approach to music led the Folk Fest organizers to elicit Andrina Turenne and Alexa Dirks to mentor up-and-coming artists in the Galaxie Young Performers Program.
The experience for the intimate crowd nestled on the grass at Shady Grove for the youth performance as well as for the young participants more than exceeded expectations.
Winnipegger Cassidy Mann, who’s participated in the young performers program at Folk Fest more than once, says the ladies of Chic Gamine “were the best mentors I ever had.
“They were just so supportive and open, (and) they’re just the kindest people.”
Going above and beyond, Mann says she got to see her mentors backstage after their milestone main stage performance.
From their guidance, she says she learned “to be confident and really believe in your music… what you’re trying to say and what you’re trying to do.”
The group has never wavered from its own belief, and the new formation of Andrina Turenne, Alexa Dirks, Annick Bremault, Sacha Daoud and Benoit Morier dedicate to their music full-time.
Giving up has “never been part of our discussion,” says Turenne.
When it came to festival highlights for Turenne, nothing could have been dreamier than assuming the stage that one of her idols, Bonnie Raitt, graced the night prior.
“To see one of your heroes onstage and then perform in front of your community.
(It’s) just amazing.”
Turenne also felt gifted to have been chosen as a valuable mentor for a hand-picked crop of talent. Forty-two musicians from across Canada and the United States were selected by a jury of industry professionals to work with mentors at the festival.

Members of Chic Gamine joined their young performer mentees onstage for a finale performance at Folk Fest.

Members of Chic Gamine joined their young performer mentees onstage for a finale performance at Folk Fest.

“It’s humbling to even be asked to be in the position,” says Turenne. “Being recognized as somebody who has something that’s valued by another generation coming up.”
Mann says she’s been looking forward to the experience since she heard Chic Gamine members would be mentoring the young group, as a devoted fan and Winnipegger herself, the group models what is possible for a committed performer from this small prairie city.
Already playing sets all around town, Mann may be priming to follow in the footsteps of several past young performers who’ve moved on to their own slots in the Folk Fest lineup.
Besides learning from the successful singer/musicians of Chic Gamine, Mann says the opportunity to play and experiment with other young performers from across North America who share her dreams was extremely rewarding.
“It’s really nice to just get feedback, especially from other songwriters that are trying to do the same thing,’ she says.
The group of six young artists mentored under Chic Gamine, including Winnipeggers Mitchell Schimnowski and Mann, collaborated on most songs onstage, offering their harmonies and additional guitar support on each other’s tracks.
The crew had clearly bonded over their time spent preparing to take the stage together, and, under the guidance of Turenne and Dirks, took the stage with confidence.
Dirks jokingly disciplined a performer when he said he was surrounded by brighter talent onstage that day, reminding him they talked about refraining from being self-deprecating.
Though, she introduced the group riding the line herself: “I don’t know what we really taught them ‘cause they seemed to know a lot already,” said Dirks.
Turenne adds: “It was great that we were busy with the young performers all day so we didn’t think about (our main stage performance) too much.”
But if you were watching their main stage show, you’d never know they had a shred of trepidation.

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Creative Communications evolves with new media

The author created the website GoWPG for a school project and Tourism Winnipeg has posted the link to its nightlife page, giving it real-world credibility.

The author created the website GoWPG for a school project, and Tourism Winnipeg has posted the link to its nightlife page, giving it real-world credibility.

By Audrey Neale

If you were to tell me two years ago that today I’d be running my own youth tourism website and interviewing for multiple marketing positions – well, I’d wonder how I got so lucky. What brought me to this fortunate place?
Two words: Creative Communications.
For those who aren’t familiar with the program, it’s a two-year diploma program at Red River College that prepares roughly 75 students a year for a variety of careers in the communications field. Broadcasters, radio hosts, copywriters, journalists, event planners; there is really no telling where the program will lead you.
“I went in wanting to be a journalist and now I’m a videographer for The Winnipeg Foundation. I love it here,” says recent graduate, Nolan Bicknell.
I was initially drawn to “Cre Comm” for its creative side, and for the opportunity to push myself after hearing how demanding it was. Cre Comm claims to accept the most promising students each year, and does so through an entry test, portfolio submission, and final interview.
The entry process is admittedly tough, but reasonable (make sure to know your Great Lakes…). After a few months of sporadic contact with the college and deciding whether or not I was willing to give up my social life, I was in.
Accepted as an eager pupil with the itch to write, but still slightly unsure what communications actually meant.
Communications can be defined as the imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium. The program taught us just that, how to creatively get messages across in different ways and have them stand out amongst the clutter.
In first year, there are four key subjects: advertising, journalism, public relations and media production. We also took electives that taught us creative writing, grammar, and fundamental design skills.
The workload was heavy, but the instructors, who are also industry professionals, made the material as fun and interesting as possible.
My homework ranged from creating a Vine video to attending a City Hall meeting and scrumming with Sam Katz. We also learned how to properly shoot video; how to write for a variety of media; and the fundamentals of journalism and public relations crisis communications (that’s just year one).
In second year, you choose a “major” and strengthen your skills in either advertising, journalism, public relations or media production, with the goal of building a strong portfolio in that area. “It was so difficult to choose. I felt drawn to everything for different reasons, but media production taught me how to communicate visually – which is incredibly important in the multimedia world that we live in,” says Bicknell.
Along with the second year comes work placements and the infamous Independent Professional Project (IPP). A handful of charity events, books, short films and EP releases each year are done by Cre Comm students driven by the incentive to graduate.
An IPP is a large, real-life creative project that we must pitch and carry out, and then use our communication skills to market it to the public. Friends of mine did amazing work: some wrote books which are now being sold in McNally Robinson or developed rebrands for local companies; one made a TV pilot, and others made outstanding documentaries.
For my IPP, I wanted to build a website for local youth that showcased how cool Winnipeg is. I built the website GoWPG myself, and filled it with up-to-date bar listings, blog posts, a nightlife calendar, and created accompanying social media which I update regularly.
It has been very well-received, and Tourism Winnipeg ended up posting the link on its nightlife page which was an unbelievable accomplishment. I never would have done that had it not been for Cre Comm. GoWPG
Throughout the two years I made great friends and had incredible experiences.
I was part of the Winnipeg Humane Society telethon which required a full eight-hour work day of live streaming; I presented a rebrand idea to the owners of Unburger; I made a documentary about mental health; I interviewed strangers on the street for journalism class; I won a national award from Ad Standards Canada – the list goes on.
I commend Cre Comm for its modernity and constant adaptation to technology. We literally learned how to tweet and were required to keep our social media accounts fresh and current.
We worked primarily with Mac computers and learned how to use industry-standard software and video equipment. We also took web design in our second year, and learned the basics of Dreamweaver and Squarespace to keep us digitally fluent.
“We all know that social media isn’t going away, and Cre Comm taught us how to use it effectively and strategically. They did a great job of incorporating that into the workload,” says Bicknell.
Although I majored in advertising, my graduating class and I all have the same diploma. The communications field is a broad one, and I’m excited to see where it will lead me.

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Arborists do more than hug trees at Winnipeg Folk Festival

The Tree Huggers crew for Folk Fest are a mix of arborists and skilled labourers who constantly get asked if they just go around hugging trees.

The Tree Huggers crew for Folk Fest are a mix of arborists and skilled labourers who constantly get asked if they just go around hugging trees.

If you ask any Folk Fest volunteers what drives them to contribute to the festival, most of the answers will rotate between the complimentary festival passes and the free food served by La Cuisine, which is delicious.
But the Tree Huggers crew, brand new this year, wanted to make change.
At the previous year’s festival, Robyn Holmes was seated around a campfire with her friends, the majority of them arborists.
“I was talking about how I hate every year listening to people breaking branches in the campground.
“I sit there and yell out: ‘You can’t do that. It’s actually illegal. You’re on provincial property,’” says Holmes. “And so we started chatting about there needing to be a crew to go in and cut those branches for people.”
The idea was submitted to the Winnipeg Folk Festival, and in no time, Holmes was heading the crew and assigning schedules to a group of 10.
The festival was extremely receptive to a new idea and way of improving. “I thought I was going in there just to chat with them about possibly starting up, and I got there and they handed me a coordinator book and said, ‘Alright, so we’re going to make a crew,’” says Holmes.
Most of the tree huggin’ team is comprised of certified arborists, though a few skilled labourers also lent a hand. The crew operates outside of festival hours, which means, like other jobs that need to be done prior and/or after the festival, the volunteers need to do 50 hours of work to earn their perks.
“It’s double the hours, but it’s nice to still have that freedom and to go backstage. I’ve never been back there so I was pretty excited for that,” says Holmes.
The group got to be in full vacation-mode during the fest, and they also get to spend more time at the festival campground than most, as their trips out to the festival grounds before and after Folk Fest often include camping.
“It was a fantastic weekend when we went out in May the ten of us and we camped out,” says Holmes. They weathered the cold together and enjoyed each other’s company so much that they decided to camp together for the entire festival.
During festival week, Holmes was able to compare and contrast a tree that they pruned versus one that was left untamed. The festival is assuredly more safe and attractive due to the dead brush and branches that the Tree Huggers clear out.
“I feel much better knowing that the trees are happier, and they’ll provide more shade that way too,” says Holmes. “There’s more spaces to set up tents and less eye poking and arm scraping and everything.”
Because not all of the Tree Huggers are professional arborists, Holmes paired each labourer with an arborist while they’re working, and due to interest, they’re going to hold a mentoring weekend so the labourers can develop good technique. Not a bad work experience opportunity for anyone wanting to become an arborist down the road.
Looking ahead to next year, Holmes says, “I wouldn’t hesitate to take more people ‘cause there is lots that needs to be done.
“We have that big festival campground and the festival site to work on. And then they’re always planting new trees, so we’re going to have to do a lot of maintenance on those, just to make sure that they grow up properly.”
She says the opportunity to learn and work with professional arborists could lead to real-world jobs, as most of the Tree Huggers either work for private landscaping companies or the city, and could put in a good word.
The name “Tree Huggers” was suggested by the Folk Festival team, and the crew loves it even though it causes some confusion.
“We have gotten a lot of questions. People are like, ‘What do you just go around and hug trees?’” laughs Holmes.

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Folk Festival Recap

We had a hard time transitioning back to the work grind, so let’s take one last look at the good times we had.

The main stage was brimming with people getting ready for Bonnie Raitt (she killed it, by the way!).

The main stage was brimming with people getting ready for Bonnie Raitt (she killed it, by the way!).

A tiny hula hooper starting her own Folk Fest traditions.

A tiny hula hooper starting her own Folk Fest traditions.

Boy & Bear lead singer Dave Hosking.

Boy & Bear lead singer Dave Hosking.

Mexican Institute of Sound got people's arms up in a big way.

Mexican Institute of Sound got people’s arms up in a big way.

The campground welcomed new structures creating much-needed shade for festival goers.

The campground welcomed new structures creating much-needed shade for festival goers.

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