Vancouver Mural Festival set to bring more artists to the streets this August

Last year’s inaugural festival saw murals by over 40 artists go up. This year, organizers have expanded the lineup to include 60 murals, and will be putting on more public events including live music and speaker series.

David Vertesi, the festival’s executive director, said the goal this year is to go bigger, and improve on areas where they received the most constructive criticism.

“Last year, we were just trying to do it. And it happened. People didn’t think it was possible,” Vertesi told the Georgia Straight over the phone.

This year, Vertesi and his team are placing more effort on helping graffiti artists work with the City, and focusing on featuring more indigenous artists. They will be showcasing First Nations artists like Andrew Dexel, Jeska Slater, and Sharifah Marsden, to name a few, running mural workshops with indigenous youth, and Maori artist Johnson Witehira will be visiting from New Zealand.

“We want to really look at how murals can help combat indigenous erasure around Vancouver," said Vertesi. “We’ve paired up with certain artists to make not only an amazing piece of art, but something that can transform and take back the space.”

Other featured artists include international artists like Austria’s Nychos, Spain’s Cinta Vidal, and local artists like Fiona Ackerman, Andy Dixon, Johnnie Christmas, and AA Crew. Emily Carr University of Art & Deisgn students and Mount Pleasant Community Centre Youth will also be contributing artwork.

The festival will also feature a week of live music leading up to the street festival on August 12. Basia Bulat will play the Fox Cabaret, We Are the City is set to perform at the Biltmore Cabaret, and Dan Boeckner’s Operators will play the Cobalt. Louise Burns and Yukon Blonde will play the Red Bull Tour Bus Stage on August 12, with more musical acts to be announced soon. 

Other programming will include walking tours of the murals, a beer garden by Vancouver Craft Beer Week, and a series of artist talks (August 9).

Over 300 interested participants applied for this year’s festivals, according to Vertesi. Vancouver Mural Festival commits to compensating its artists, and this year’s lineup increased from 40 to 60 murals, despite the fact that their city funding was reduced to $100,000 from last year’s $200,000.

“We’re grateful for that support, it’s massive,“ said Vertesi, explaining that less funding from the city has just meant raising money in other ways and receiving “immense support” from different groups of people.

The festival has exceeded the city’s expected mural count for the second year in a row. In 2016, the City of Vancouver asked the festival to provide 20 murals, and they came through with 40. This year the city asked for 40 properties to be decorated, and 60 projects are set to go up.

“We like to over-deliver,” said Vertesi with a laugh.

While it seems like something as fun as planning 60 murals should be easy, from a curating standpoint, serving the interests of the building owners, artists, and the community poses a unique challenge for organizers.

“Putting artists to the walls is one half curating and the other half matchmaking,” said Vertesi.

“It’s like a dating show between building owners and artists. We figure out what they want and match them to someone from their registry, while always trying to preserve the overall diversity of the lineup.”

Any and all planning challenges pay off, however, when the community responds to a piece with appreciation.

Last year, The Present is a Gift, Jay Senetchko and Drew Young’s piece at Main and Broadway, featured the faces of two long-time community members: Bob, an optometrist in the area since the 1950s, and Paisley, a young woman of Squamish descent and long-term resident of the neighbourhood. Vertesi said they have received overwhelmingly positive feedback on the mural from the community and city, and this stand-out piece from 2016’s festival speaks to the power of public art in fostering a sense of community. 

Other notable works from 2016 included Tim Barnard's mural for Rize Development at Main and Kingsway, and Scott Sueme's piece for Hootsuite HQ at 8th and Ontario. 

The 2017 festival promises to be a fun-filled opportunity for Vancouver to look outward—and inward—at itself from new perspectives. Vertesi’s goal is to give the city’s artists a public canvas to share their gifts with the public. Vancouver has more artists per capita than any other Canadian city, but according to Vertesi, “there are factors in place that make them feel like they can’t do public art.”

“This is a chance to show off the young, energetic, vibrant art scene,” said Vertesi. “It’s something that can be a source of pride for people in their neighbourhood.”

The festivities will be kicking off before August. On June 24th, Vancouver Mural Festival will be hosting a street party at Strathcona to unveil a building covered in murals.

With more details yet to be released here, there’s a lot to look forward to. Vertesi comments on how hard it was to choose which artists to work with, but happily reminded the Straight that, thankfully, “it’s an annual event”—there’s always next year.

The full list of artists is: AA Crew, Aaron White, Amanda Smart, Andrew Dexel, Andrew Tavukciyan, Andy Dixon, Ari De La Mora, Ben Frey, Blake Wydeman, Bracken Hanuse Corlett,  Brother Jopa, Capilano University IDEA Design Students, Carson Ting, Cristian Fowlie, Cinta Vidal (Spain), Corey Bulpitt, CRUMS, David Shillinglaw (UK), Dedos, Derek Edenshaw, Emily Carr University Students, Emily Gray Filipo Intile, Fiona Ackerman, Francis Tiffany, Frank Jones, GHIA Collective, Irving Cano (Mexico), Jane Cheng, Jeska Slater, JNASTY, Johnnie Christmas, Johnson Witehira (New Zealand), Khelsilem, Lani Imre, Laura Bifano, Lauren Brevner, Linsey Levendall, Marat Morik (Russia), Mega Mcgrath, Milan Basic, Mount Pleasant Community Centre Youth, Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House, Mur0ne (Spain), NAKS, Nychos (Austria), Oksana Guidaseva, PEETA (Italy), Priscilla Yu, Sandeep Johal, Sarah Delaney, Sharifah Marsden, SILOH, Stace Forand, SUEME, TAKE 5, TARS,  Tristesse Seeliger, Tyler Keeton Robbins, VIRUS, Will Phillips,  wrk(less), Young Artist Warriors.

Vancouver Mural Festival's weeklong programming will include Thrive Artist Talks: Mural Edition (August 7), Supersnag Live Art Night (August 8), VMF: YEAR 2—Official Gallery Show Opening at Burrard Arts Foundation (August 10) and VMF Painter’s Prom – a VIP semi-formal at Beaumont Studios featuring live Murals, Vancouver Art Battle and music by Chapel Sound (August 11).  ), Alleyway Oasis (featuring Public Disco by Groundwerk and the Treasures & Travels Market), 4 Elements—Graffiti Writers, Break Dancers, DJs, and Emcees (Vancouver Street Dance Festival, Table Tutors DJs, and The Holden Courage Memorial Graffiti Jam).

Source: The Georgia Straight