Mural festival brings bright, massive paintings to Vancouver streets

By The Canadian Press
August 19, 2016 - 10:25am

VANCOUVER — An east Vancouver neighbourhood has gotten increasingly colourful lately, but the people behind dozens of new murals in the area say the art is about more than beautifying empty walls.

More than 40 artists are painting about 35 permanent works on buildings near Main Street for the inaugural Vancouver Mural Festival.

There are massive pieces on century-old apartment buildings, whimsical doodle-like images on the front of a paint store and an intricate image of geometric wolves on the back of a coffee shop.

“We’re trying to get art out of galleries, and the bars and the studios, and into public space,” says David Vertesi, the festival’s executive director.

There’s an abundance of artistic talent in the city, he says, and many people simply don’t know about it. Part of his goal is to transform how art is seen, both figuratively and literally, and get residents talking about it.

Those conversations are important for what happens in the future, says Drew Young, a Vancouver artist who helped curate the festival.

Despite the high number of creative people in town, events and spaces to showcase work are disappearing, he says.

“Venues are slowly shutting down, opportunities are becoming few and far between, and we’re sitting on a hotbed. The time is now to really show what’s going on in the city, or else there’s really not going to be an art scene in the city.”

Young says the festival’s organizers looked for a diverse range of artists, including people from different ethnic backgrounds, genders and sexual orientations. Everyone has a story, he explains, and they wanted a lot of different stories to be told.

All of the creators have been working hard to make their craft viable, Young says, and the murals have stretched everyone’s limits, because few people have previously taken on such large-scale projects.

“There are so many massive firsts,” he says. “Our newcomers, they’ve never painted a wall and most of these guys are painting walls that are bigger than stuff I’ve ever touched.”

The festival, too, is a massive undertaking. In addition to co-ordinating artists and spaces for all of the paintings, organizers have put together a series of events this weekend, including a walking tour, a speakers’ panel and concerts by musicians such as Shad and Andrew W.K.

“This (festival) shows it’s a so-fun city, not a no-fun city,” says Vertesi, who’s also a musician and plays bass in the band Hey Ocean!

There are a lot of issues facing the arts, from funding to pubic perception, and in some ways the murals are meant to address those, he says.

“At the root of all these issues that we face … it comes down to the public caring. And the way we’ve chosen to try and influence that is to create meaningful experiences for people with art in Vancouver.”

Murals created for the festival’s first year have yet to dry, but organizers are already looking forward to what future iterations may bring. They see it becoming an annual event, and want to expand to different neighbourhoods, as well as work with other artists and organizations.

Young says he hopes the festival makes people view Vancouver as an art destination.

“It feels like we’re making an actual difference,” he says. “It feels like we’re actually changing the way people see things.”

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press

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