I love it when Everyday Tourist readers send me information and photos of places they think would interest me while travelling in other cities. Recently Harry Hiller, an urban sociologist professor at the University of Calgary, send me some photos he took while exploring a mural festival that took place in the back alley along four blocks of Vancouver's inner city community of Mt. Pleasant.
Hiller loved the fact the murals are permanent so you can enjoy them even when there is no festival.
He was impressed by the thousands of people over the course of the day walking the back alley with food trucks, music, and even skate board performances.
He loved the creative use of back alleys which are often perceived as ugly and unsafe places.
He liked how parking stalls, garbage bins and containers all became canvases for artworks.
One thing I noticed is that all of the murals are bold and colourful - more decorative than provocative. There didn't seem to be any political or social angst that is often associated with street art - just good clean fun.
Nobody is going to confuse these works with the great muralists of Mexico City - Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro. However, they do have lots in common with the Psychedelic and Op Art movements of the '60s.
In fact, what Hiller experienced was the second year of the Vancouver Mural Festival, which involved numerous sites in the city's east side communities. A total of 50 new murals were created from August 7 to 12th, attracting an estimated audience of 100,000 people. It was billed as Vancouver's biggest free art event.
In fact, they looked a lot like the back alley artworks I saw in Montreal's in December which were left over from their annual mural festival. This year's festival happened in June and more than a dozen new murals were left behind for everyone to enjoy. I was told that in Montreal, murals have become so popular many festivals include creating a mural as part of the legacy of the event. As a result, Montreal's inner city has become one giant outdoor art gallery. A fun and free tourist attraction with mass appeal. Just what Hiller was talking about.
Hmmm...I am thinking this could be a great new weekend event for the Calgary Downtown Association and the Alberta College of Art to collaborate on. For that matter mural festivals would be a great annual event for many of Canada's downtowns - Hamilton, Winnipeg, London or Edmonton - adding a sense of play and colour would make them more attractive places to hang out for people of all ages and backgrounds.
As I wrote, I received a tweet that Calgary's Beltline Community is indeed going to host something called BUMP (Beltline Urban Murals Project) this fall. This reminded me that Calgary's 17th Avenue had a mural program in the '80s and '90s, however due to maintenance cost they are all gone.
I also couldn't help but wonder if there isn't a link between the fact Vancouver, like Montreal and Berlin have fostered a strong street culture (murals, street art, graffiti, outdoor festivals, food trucks) and the fact they have also become three of the most attractive cities in the the world for young entrepreneurs and creatives who are roaming the planet looking for interesting places to live, work and play.
More and more, I am thinking cities like Calgary should be fostering a free, improv street art culture, rather than a formal, expensive, controversial public art program as a means of making their city centre more attractive to the next generation of innovators who will create the economic engines of the early 21st century.
Perhaps a policy of "No Blank Walls!" should be park of Calgary's urban design policy.