Guided tour of Vancouver Mural Festival illustrates past and future

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      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. 

      Kafka's cafe has seen a positive increase in business since their exterior was redesigned at last year's festival.
      Holly McKenzie-Sutter

      Vertesti reiterated the selection of artists is also dependent on how well they will fit with the needs and characteristics of the buildings themselves. 

      Comic book artist Johnnie Christmas, who recently illustrated Margaret Atwood's Angel Catbird, will be painting on the side of Burdock & Co.
      Holly McKenzie-Sutter

      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 will be painted as a part of this year's festival. Vertesi says this piece will be painted by an indigenous artist, but a name has  yet to be released.
      Holly McKenzie-Sutter

      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. 

      Gene Coffee will be painted by artist Bracken Hanuse-Corlett.
      Holly McKenzie-Sutter

      Bracken Hanuse-Corlett, an artist of Wuikinuxv and Klahoose descent, will paint the exterior of Gene Coffee-a coveted spot by festival organizers. 

      Last year, Low Bros painted the City Centre Motel. This year the blank sides of the building will be unveiling new murals.
      Holly McKenzie-Sutter

      Some buildings will be receiving additional work this year. City Centre Motel will be see work go up on its other walls this summer. 

      This alleyway just west of Main will be almost completely painted in murals from Broadway down to 3rd Ave.
      Holly McKenzie-Sutter

      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.

      Popular Vancouver artist Andrew Dixon will take over this space in his first ever mural.
      Holly McKenzie-Sutter

      This stretch of urban canvas will feature a first-ever mural by Andrew Dixon. 

      Spencer Keeton Cunningham's piece just west of Main St. was not an official part of the festival, but has become a part of its urban gallery since.
      Holly McKenzie-Sutter

      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. 

      This mural by Indigo, also known as Shallom Johnson, commemorates recent police shootings of black people in the Unites States. It was one of the festival's more politically charged pieces from last year. Vertesi hopes to see more social commentary-based works go up in 2017.
      Holly McKenzie-Sutter

      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. 

      Organizers have made a point to involve more graffiti writers in the festival this year.
      Holly McKenzie-Sutter

      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). 

      Last year's mural by Jay Senetchko and Drew Young at Main and Broadway was one of the festival's most popular pieces.
      Holly McKenzie-Sutter

      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