Made in Strathcona has launched a walkable outdoor art gallery throughout its neighbourhood this summer.
The project, called 10 Blocks of Passion, pairs local artists with Strathcona businesses to tell the stories behind the storefronts in the area. The result is an array of five artworks that span murals to functional pieces and sculpture—all on view in the temporary street gallery through September. Pieces range from a 3-D mural that draws in Railtown history to a concrete bench that echoes the twin peaks of the Lions, visible across Burrard Inlet. Johanna Vortel, sustainability and communications coordinator for the Strathcona Business Improvement Association, says the project is part of a bigger vision for the area.
“Last year, we launched an initiative to make East Hastings the most walkable street by 2021,” she tells the Straight by phone, referring to the area between Campbell and Princess avenues. “Making the neighbourhood accessible to everyone is important to us. Public works of art are sort of hidden around the neighbourhood and this is to excite people and invite them to find the pieces.”
Along the way, visitors can stop to enjoy food and drink discounts, offered through social media, at area spots like Luppolo Brewing Company, the Uncommon Cafe, Liquids + Solids, Strathcona Beer Company, and Casa del Caffe.
In its unique approach, 10 Blocks of Passion’s goal was to reveal the stories behind all the manufacturing, innovation, and creativity that goes on in Strathcona.
For her striking black-and-white imagery across the front of Agro Roasters (550 Clark Drive), designer and artist Tierney Milne got to know owner Dusty Smith, paying homage to his dedication to his craft through bold patterns and symbols.
“He and his wife are really inspired by the process [of coffeemaking] and seeing the landscapes of where it comes from; they talk about travelling to Honduras and Nicaragua and Brazil,” says the artist, who subtly references the traditional patterns from those regions in her mural. “They spoke really viscerally about how the landscape impacts the agriculture.”
Milne melds that influence with a nod to the industrial heritage of the coffee roasters’ site.
The painting is a complete departure for Milne, who’s known for colourful, cheerful works for the likes of the Vancouver Mural Festival. “It was really freeing to do something black-and-white. It felt more like a design piece with architecture in mind than a fine-art piece.”
She admits it was a huge leap of faith for Agro to hand over the entire front of its building—its public face—for her to paint. “I take it really seriously, because I come from a branding background,” she says. “It’s a first impression and it makes a big impression. That’s why I didn’t do something trendy, but something that felt really true and authentic. And they were so trusting and so positive, and were really excited to make a change.”
Artist Joni Taylor, who’s constructed a big sculptural illustration on the roof of Chapel Arts (305 Dunlevy Avenue), similarly got to know the story of Lana Ryma, owner of LanaLou’s Rock and Roll Eatery (362 Powell Street).
Ryma, who provides a much-needed venue for local musicians at her diner-cum-nightclub, is depicted in the illustration as a playfully rendered superhero in a power pose.
“She’s an incredibly giving and compassionate person in the community, so I was thrilled,” Taylor says. “She’s more interested in the people—and I’m really interested in the people, the unsung people who have great amounts to contribute.”
The Emily Carr University of Art + Design grad has surrounded her main subject with fun, black-and-white “caped crusaders”—creative types inspired directly by Ryma’s staff and patrons.
“I met Lana and took photos of her staff, and the little Yoda next to her—that’s her son, he’s depicted in a Yoda costume, and then her chef is Batman,” Taylor says. “The true superheroes are people without superpowers, and yet they effect change.”
10 Blocks of Passion runs through September; find the artworks online and more stories about local makers at #walkstrathcona.