This week, more than 30 new murals will be unveiled in eight boroughs across Vancouver as part of the annual Mural Festival.
The murals, painted by 50 artists, include a piece honoring the work of Rosemary Brown, the first black woman elected to the British Columbia legislature; a design inspired by efforts to bring Indigenous leadership together for conversations across the ocean; and a complete makeover of the exterior of an iconic motel, the festival’s largest mural to date.
Andrea Curtis, the festival’s executive director, said there is a lot new at this year’s event after the festival has been curtailed by COVID-19 health measures for the past two years. But the focal point, she added, is the City Center Motel, which this year serves as a hub, with the former 75 motel rooms being converted into low-cost artists’ studios.
How has the pandemic affected the festival?
It’s really forced us to think things in a new way, like everyone else. It forced us to pivot and try new things. The biggest thing for us was breaking out of our home base in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood. And so in 2020, when the pandemic hit, we realized we couldn’t host a massive festival in a neighborhood. And so we spread the love to 11 other neighborhoods; I think in 2020 it was nine. Some of these neighborhoods now have five, six, seven or more murals. It really supports visits to these neighborhoods and puts these neighborhoods on the map in a way that makes the community feel nurtured and seen.
How has the festival developed over the years?
That was really unique. Every year we have grown, not only in the number of visitors to the festival, but also in the reach and impact of our work. We really started out as a celebration at first, and over the years we’ve realized the impact mural painting or working on public artworks and spaces can have. We really tried to expand our experience and partnerships and work with different stakeholders. One of our big themes this year is experimentation and placemaking. We really want to try and make these murals kind of jump off the walls and create these immersive spaces so people can really see how a place can be transformed.
How do curators decide which art or artists to select each year? What are the criteria?
We actually have an application process going live at the beginning of the year. This year we received over 1,000 applications. We are truly grateful for the support and hard work of our guest curators. Each year our guest curators come and peruse this list, thoroughly searching for new talent and bringing new people into the mural scene.
Most of the artists we work with have never done mural work, usually around 80 percent of them. That’s why we offer them all the support and training they need to scale their work.
The criteria are very broad; We’re really just looking for work that can be scaled. And that’s really pretty much all. We have artists who are tattoo artists, we have weavers – Deborah Sparrow herself is a weaver – we have artists from so many different backgrounds. It really depends on what the curators are looking for and also what neighborhoods we work in. Because we have to go into the areas in which we work. When we’re working in an area that has some particular demographics, we really want to make sure that that’s represented and reflected.
There will be a Low Barrier Arts program aimed at facilitating access and removing barriers for people with visual impairments and blindness, neurodiverse people and people with disabilities. Where did this idea come from?
Every year we have a community project. It’s a really cool new testing project we’re working on.
Often people approach us. This community asked us to do a joint project. And so we had someone on our team who worked closely with them and involved them in the festival in a way that felt accessible to them. Many things happen behind the scenes that foster the creative accessibility of public art to diverse communities.
Are there any murals that particularly impress you?
It is difficult. Not all of the murals are ready yet, so I can’t really pick a favorite until they’re all done. But really, I have to say the transformation at City Center Motel is the most exciting thing for me right now because it’s an immersive space. We painted the floor, the floors, the pillars, all the walls and we use it as a place to hold celebrations. And so you really feel surrounded by the color and the creation of the three artists who brought this together.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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