It's an absolutely glorious day, and I decide to make the most of it. I have the map for the Vancouver Mural Festival, and I want to see them - without the crowds!
Murals have been around for a very long time but mostly used as advertising on buildings. In the US, in the '70s and '80s, Philadelphia pioneered the idea that murals could be used to cover up walls previously covered in graffiti. I think they also figured that they might be able to engage the graffiti artists to participate in creating the murals rather than defacing them.
The success of that program resonated around the world, and many, many cities now sponsor and encourage Mural Festivals. In Bristol, UK, there is Upfest, in Taupo, New Zealand there is Graffiato and in Tartu, Estonia there is Stencibilty. Montreal's Festival d'Art Urbain began in 2012. The Vancouver Mural Festival (VMF) started in 2016 and has been totally embraced by the city.
VMF aims to "act as a catalyst for addressing many of the socio-cultural issues. Including, but not limited to, public art policy, community building, environmental policy, reconciliation with First Nations, artistic censorship, diversity, cost of living, and the need for culturally sustainable development practices." (VMF).
And to have a celebration! (Hang on, there are lots of photos coming up!)
So at the end of the 2019 ten-day festival in August, which included galleries, open-air movies, and much more, there was a giant street party. Main Street was shut down for many blocks, and over 150,000 people attended.
I was there but found it so crowded that it was difficult to appreciate all of the murals. Or to take pictures. So today, a beautiful, dry fall day, I head to Mount Pleasant, the VMF epicenter.
One suggestion, don't drive there. Public transit will get you there quickly. I made the mistake of taking my car and spent a considerable amount of time driving around looking for free parking. I hate paying for parking!
Once I find parking, I head out, camera in hand. I spend two hours just wandering the back alleys. A lot of the murals are at the back of the buildings, and it is possible to miss them. You can get a VMF map, which I used for a bit, but then I decide to pocket it and just meander - letting my route unfold without forethought.
Vancouver is consistently on the move, mostly upwards, and there are many construction sites in the area. This also means the demise of some of the older murals. There are still lots to be found, and hopefully, more of the new developers will adopt the idea to include street art in the construction of the building, as in the building on the left above.
The First Nations Communities have participated actively, and their voices are distinctive and compelling. (NB- where I have been able to ascertain the artists' names, I will include them. If you can identify any of the murals that I have not attributed to an artist, please let me know.)
I want the Murals to speak for themselves, so it will be photo heavy from here on. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did on my photography walk.
The above murals, except for the bottom left, are all massive, and four of them involve multiple walls on the buildings. Top right is a four-story mural that takes up a large area of the building. Currently, it is in front of a massive hole that, I suspect, will become a high-rise building that will block the mural from view.
The building bottom right (above), is Hootsuite headquarters. It was the first building that I recall going all-in on the idea of full exterior mural coverage.
The Mount Pleasant area of Vancouver has a very diverse past. Just to the east of Main Street ran Brewery Creek, and toward the end of the 19th century, white settlers started several breweries along its banks.
It was a trendy place to live at that time as streetcars travelled along Broadway (formerly 9th Avenue), Kingsway, and Main (originally Westminster Avenue), making it very central.
The breweries started to die out, and Prohibition killed them off altogether - until R&B Brewing set up again in the neighbourhood in 1997.
In the '50s and '60s, Mount Pleasant became an undesirable area to live and developed an increasingly bad reputation. It was and still is, to some degree, an industrial area.
In the 1980's one family, the Davis', began buying and restoring some of the area's original homes. They are credited, for better or for worse, with starting the gentrification of the Mount Pleasant.
Even so, when R&B Brewing set up in 1997, it was still a bit of a rough area. It had a prostitute stroll, rundown old homes, and apartments that were mostly renting to transients.
Still, the gentrification continued and we have now come full circle. Once again, Mount Pleasant is a desirable place to live.
And the breweries? ......Well, the breweries are back and thriving.
If you decide you want to check out Mount Pleasant, as I did, to look at the murals, you might want to venture into some of those breweries too, as they are close by.
I suggest you start your Mount Pleasant brewery tour at PureBread. (E 5th Ave, & Ontario St.). Enjoy some absolutely delicious baked goods, which in turn, will absorb all those brews you're going to sample shortly.
Or head across the street to Tacofino to fill up on equally delicious tacos and burritos.
After you finish with the beers, you might want to get some more food. Right next door to Faculty Brewery is the Argo Cafe. From the outside, it is somewhat off-putting, and I wasn't even sure it was open until I saw someone walkout. It originally opened in 1954 and looks like not much has changed since then, but is highly rated. It's an old-style diner, so if you need some protein after all that beer, you might want to give it a go. It is only open until 4pm, though.
If you want to continue your brewery tour, there another six or more breweries within walking distance. They include Red Truck Beer Company, Brassneck Brewery, 33 Acres Brewing Company, Main Street Brewing, Big Rock Brewery, and Brewhall.
If you decide to continue, I would definitely recommend using transit!
When you walk around Mount Pleasant today, looking at Murals and enjoying the beer and food, think about what it might have been like at the turn of the century and how things have changed but stayed the same.
An absolutely lovely way to spend a few hours in Vancouver!