Homeless in Vancouver: A tree mural grows in Fairview

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      A small stand of trees has just appeared, in the form of a clever painted mural, in a back alley on the north side of West Broadway, between Spruce and Alder streets.

      The mural is on a narrow, two-storey-high wall that has no significance—or at least it had none before the mural appeared on Friday (June 22).

      A modest glimpse of magic where you least expect it

      By itself, the painted wall mural is not so spectacular.

      It is a simple, almost monochromatic, depiction of a handful of tall, sketchy trees receding in a mist, with one little owl perched high on the otherwise bare branch of one tree.

      Owl be darned! I sure hope no pigeons or crows hurt themselves trying to light on the branches
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      What make the mural so unexpected—the thing that literally lifts it off the wall—is the way that it cleverly (and cheekily) enlists the existing shrubbery on top the building to serve as the green canopy of one of the foreground trees.

      The flash of red in the “tree canopy” was a large red, plastic apple (rather than a rose on a rose bush, as a friend insisted).
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      This bit of whimsical Trompe-l’œil is what makes the mural so special and it’s sure to make anyone smile who sees it.

      I was also led to believe, by a homeless friend, that the illusion of the mural extended as far as making a rose on “a rose bush”, atop the building, play the part of a luscious red apple dangling in the foliage of one of the painted trees. Anyway, that’s what my friend said.

      Monday morning (June 25), however, I found a red foam-plastic apple on the pavement in front of the mural. No doubt it had fallen from the branch above (where the artist of the mural had carefully placed it), dislodged by heavy overnight rain and wind.

      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      On Thursday, the same homeless friend, who was so certain about the rose, spoke with the tree planters-slash-mural artists who created the tree-mendous mural. He told me that they were three in number and that they told him they worked for the building owner. That’s what my friend said.

      The bold signature on the bottom right hand corner of the mural tells me that (helping hands aside) it was the creation of one Paul Archer, a noted Victoria-based muralist and airbrush artist, who has created literally hundreds of wall murals.

      The first evidence that a mural was being painted in the alley came on the evening of June 19th.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      On Friday, I spoke with Maurice, the custodian who works for the owner of the building graced with the new mural. I have been conversational with Maurice for something like a decade but he has never warmed up to me. He’s probably very good at his job but I do not think he’s very fond of homeless people.

      After I somewhat allayed his initial suspicions (“Why do you want to know this? Why are you asking these questions?”), Maurice allowed that the building owner had simply decided that they wanted the mural.

      The finished mural looks as good at night as as it does during the day.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      In an unexpected aside, Maurice told me that another mural is coming to the immediate area—somewhere vaguely west of where he and I were standing, based on his impatient hand gestures.

      Unfortunately, the taciturn building custodian was all done with questions before I could find out from him if this other mural will be on another building belonging to the owner he works for. I have to think that this will be the case though.

      According to my friend, who spoke to the mural painters, the owner is in possession of a lot of buildings—as many as 85! This stretches credulity a bit but, again, that’s what my friend said.

      In other Vancouver mural news…

      Will South Granville get another mural in 2018—to at least offset the almost certain destruction of the one at 7th and Granville?
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      The summer outdoor mural season in Vancouver actually began this year in spring, with Granville Island’s inaugural Art Smash taking place May 1 to 12. The event, produced with the help of the three-year-old Vancouver Mural Festival, saw 10 artists create murals around the Chain and Forge, the Island’s newest public space, located underneath and around the massive pillars of the Granville Street Bridge.

      Granville Island is federal land and therefore I am guessing that the funding for Art Smash came from the Government of Canada.

      The South Granville Business Improvement Association—in its ongoing program to beautify and individualize the shopping high street of South Granville—indicates that it may commission one wall mural this summer at 3157 Granville Street. I’m guessing that this would be painted on the blank, north-facing wall of the property in the back alley. At this point, however, I’m told that no artist has been chosen.

      Any new mural will join the four that are already gracing six blocks-worth of South Granville, which the SGBIA commissioned between 2016 and 2017, from artists Milan Basic, Ola VolaEd Spence, and James Knight respectively.

      Unfortunately, the 2016 mural by Basic (after a painting by Kristofir Dean) is on a property slated for redevelopment and will almost certainly be demolished with the building.

      Should it happen, The 2018 SGBIA mural will be funded, at least in part, out the BIA’s 2018/19 budget of $673,500, raised by special tax levy on property owners within the BIA’s boundary—specifically from the $132,500 portion earmarked for “neigbourhood beautification".

      To fund and facilitate its murals, the SGBIA’s executive director, Sharon Townsend, has said that the SGBIA works closely with the South Granville property and business hosting the mural and, if possible, draws on the City of Vancouver’s graffiti management program, which will fund up to $2,500 in supplies and equipment.

      According to Townsend, the 2017 mural by Ed Spence at 3002 Granville Street, cost about $12,000.

      The third annual Vancouver Mural Festival takes place August 6 to 11 and will see at least another 23 murals created on buildings on and around the Main Street corridor and elsewhere. Sponsors for the VMF include the Government of Canada, the Province of British Columbia, the City of Vancouver, and the Mount Pleasant Business Improvement Association.

      From the Mount Pleasant BIA’s 2018/19 budget of $478,544, the 2018 Vancouver Mural Festival will receive $32,000—more than twice the allotment for the Main Street Car Free Day. Beyond that, the MPBIA has designated $11,000 for promoting, marketing and advertising special events, including the VMF, which is clearly seen by the MPBIA as its most important event of the year.

      From the City of Vancouver, in 2018, the Vancouver Mural Festival should receive at least $100,000; however, the amount could be much higher.

      A city report on 2018 Public Art Boost funding indicates that the VMF received $200,000 in Public Art Boost Funding from 2016 to 2017. But the Georgia Straight, reported that the VMF received $200,000 from the city in 2016 alone. And the VMF FAQ document says that the festival received Public Art Boost funding for 2016-17 totaling $300,000, plus $80,000-worth of free paint from the city.

      As to whether the federal and provincial sponsorship of the Vancouver Mural Festival comes with financial grants, I cannot say but one would think so. 

      The foam-plastic apple that fell “out” of the 1100 block mural. I’m keeping it to give back to Maurice, the building manager.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine
      Stanley Q. Woodvine is a homeless resident of Vancouver who has worked in the past as an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer. Follow Stanley on Twitter at @sqwabb.

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