Vancouver Mural Festival founder David Vertesti met a small group of press last night outside of Kafka's cafe for a trek up and down Main Street that offered colourful background on last year's popular pieces, and more information on what we can expect to see popping up on Mount Pleasant walls later this summer.
Set to run this August 7 to 12, the festival will be kicking off next Saturday (June 24) with a street party for the unveiling of a full building mural wrap at Strathcona.
Standing on the east side of Main Street just north of Broadway, Drew Young and Jay Senetchko's "The Present is a Gift" mural is visible over the sign for Kafka's cafe, which was painted last year by Sandy and Steve Pell. Since then, the owners have seen an increase in business, and are now sponsoring the festival. Vertesi said this was just one example of how business owners in the neighbourhood have embraced the positive changes that come from public art.
Vertesti reiterated the selection of artists is also dependent on how well they will fit with the needs and characteristics of the buildings themselves.
That's why artist Johnnie Christmas was chosen to paint a mural for Burdock & Co. at 11th and Main. The four-paneled wall presented a perfect canvas for Christmas, who normally works as a comic artist.
Vertesi told the group that one of this year's goals is to curate art that examines intersecting cultural issues, and in particular, to bring indigenous art to the neighbourhood.
"We live on unceded territory, but looking around the neighbourhood, you wouldn't know it," said Vertesi.
Part of this year's festival goals is to reclaim and reshape the space with work by indigenous artists.
The Tim Horton's at Main and Broadway in set to be one such site of artistic reclamation, although the artists who will work with the building have yet to be announced.
Bracken Hanuse-Corlett, an artist of Wuikinuxv and Klahoose descent, will paint the exterior of Gene Coffee-a coveted spot by festival organizers.
Some buildings will be receiving additional work this year. City Centre Motel will be see work go up on its other walls this summer.
Another one of the festival's goals will be to activate public spaces. This alleyway just west of Main Street will see artwork going up from Broadway down to 3rd Avenue, to bring attention to an under-maintained space that many people already use as an unofficial bike lane.
This stretch of urban canvas will feature a first-ever mural by Andrew Dixon.
Despite having an extensive roster of artists booked so far, Vertesi mentioned that anyone who paints a mural during the festival can be included in the lineup and on the map. Spencer Keeton Cunningham's piece from last year was one such work, that unofficially became a part of the grid. This year, the alleyway this piece lives in will be surrounded by new, neighbouring works, including a piece by Austrian artist Nychos that will adorn the back of the Fox Cabaret.
Part of activating the neighbourhood also means the inclusion of works that comment on social and political issues. This 2016 work by Indigo, also known as Shallom Johnson, just north of Broadway at Main, draws on images that speak to the epidemic of police brutality in the United States. Vertesi said these works can be difficult to convince building owners to include, but are an important part of the community engagement work the festival strives to do.
Vertesi also mentioned that including graffiti writers has posed a challenge, as the Vancouver has fairly strict rules around allowing graffiti. This year they're working with the City to allow more legal spaces for graffiti art, and will be featuring graffiti artists including Andrew Dexell in the festival's first building reveal next Saturday (June 24).
Vertesi ended the tour with one of the festival's most renowned works. Despite roadblocks to get the piece up, from actually booking the space to the building owner changing his mind about painting two residents at the last minute. But ultimately Vertesi is proud of how this work, that depicts two life-long residents, speaks to the neighbourhood's character, its history, and its future.
Mostly, Vertesi is happy that this piece has made people appreciate the neighbourhood as a space worth admiring.
"Now, people lift their heads up, look around and take in the place,” said Vertesi.
If you're interested in taking a walking tour of the mural festival's artwork, Vancouver Mural Festival is running two tours every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. More information on rates can be found here.