We spoke with Vancouver artist and curator Drew Young about the upcoming Vancouver Mural Festival and its affiliated group show.
GM: This is the Vancouver Mural Festival’s inaugural year. What can you tell us about the process of bringing this event to Vancouver? What were the inspirations or other, similar events it’s indebted to?
DY: Let me start by saying it’s been a long time coming. With the massive boom of murals and arts festivals being broadcast all over the globe thanks to Instagram, the Vancouver creative community is itching to do the same. And let’s be honest – the hotbed of talent we’re sitting on deserves it. It takes a lot of money to stay here, and a lot of talent to make that money. I believe artists who stick around are remarkably skilled to be able to make that work and stand out.
In terms of bringing the festival to the city, I’m almost exclusively handling arts direction and curation. The real luminary is David Vertesi, of Create Vancouver Society, #SingItFwd, and Hey Ocean!. Dave’s the lynchpin for all facets of the festival, and is responsible for unravelling the red tape that guards public art and mural policies. What we’ve learned is that people, like the general public, business owners, and the city council, actually want to see this happen, but it takes moxie to connect the dots.
Dave also brought on the incredible Transformation Projects (Adrian Sinclair and Andrea Curtis) to produce the festival. Those two do some really amazing, out-of-the-box events and are seamlessly suited for this type of forward thinking, grassroots project. We’ve also been privileged enough to get a staggering amount of support from both the City of Vancouver and the Mount Pleasant Business Improvement Association. They’ve both played pivotal roles in bringing the festival to fruition on so many levels.
My first experience at a large-scale art festival was Art Basel in Miami. It was very humbling to get to work with Scott Sueme, who invited me to collaborate alongside an unreal roster in the Graffuturism compound. The compound is central in the Wynwood district, which gets completely turned upside down for the festival. Walls on walls on walls happening everywhere, and especially being in Miami, overwhelming would be an understatement.
So coming back to this city, it’s only natural to scratch your head on what to do here. Since returning, I’ve started a weekly live-painting event called Snag. It’s a very basic structure centred on artists producing work and then raffling it off at the end of the night. It’s a means of getting art to those who can’t regularly afford it. For three and half years, I’ve had the privilege of working with hundreds of local and international artists. This way, I’ve managed to get a rough sense of where the creative pools are, how to engage them, and where to discover them. This year we’ll see lots of the Snag family in the festival.
GM: When and where will the festival be taking place?
DY: We’re focusing largely on the Mount Pleasant area and also the False Creek Flats, with Main Street as a centerline. Murals will be happening from 14th Ave all the way north to Prior Street, near The Cobalt [editor’s note: where Snag is held].
Art production starts on August 13th through 21st, with the festival activating on August 20th. Main Street will be closed to traffic from 7th to 14th Avenue for the street festival presented by the Mount Pleasant BIA. It will include outdoor stages and music programming, outdoor artist studios, interactive activations with Deserres, live art demos, mobile galleries, a sculpture walk — the list goes on.
We’re also launching a satellite project at the MakerLabs building down on Cordova. This is happening from July 22nd-30th. The entire building will be wrapped in murals by eight local and one international artists. The idea is to get the public excited for what’s possible at the Vancouver Mural Festival in August . You can look forward to seeing walls by Dedos, Bicicleta Sem Freio, Mandy Tsung X Chop Logik, Mark Illing, Tierney Milne X Colin Moore, Frazer Adams and Alison Woodward X Graeme McCormack.
GM: Are you hoping to have the festival become an annual event? Where can someone who’s interested find out more?
DY: That’s definitely the plan. The first year is tough, as many business owners want to see how it takes shape before getting on board. As far as our website goes, it should be up in a couple of weeks. We’re currently finalizing our brand with the award-winning design studio 123 West. For now, you can follow us on Instagram @vanmuralfest for daily inspiration and festival updates.
GM: Here at the BAF, public art is one of our major focuses, making the Vancouver Mural Festival a natural choice for us to collaborate with. What do you think of the current public art landscape in our city? Do you see the VMF as filling a gap, or bringing something new to the table?
DY: I would say it seems sparse, but that may be a bit knee-jerk, and I can be a bit insular. I don’t know if it’s filling a void per se, but there is a definite need in this city to offer more large-scale opportunities, and celebrate local talent in a bigger way. There are heaps of empty walls around, and it’s time to fill them! In that way, we are literally filling a gap.
GM: Which artists working in murals or public art are you inspired by at the moment?
DY: This is tough. I really dig how the PowWow! Hawaii movement is being adapted by lots of cities around the world. Those folks curate some real rockstar walls and talent. For artists, there’s too many. To say a few, I’d say to take a look at Zoer/Velvet, Marat “Morik” Danilyan, EtamCru, Hense, Kofie, SatOne, Felipe Pantone. I’m shooting at the hip here.
GM: Which artists did you choose to participate, and why? How do they complement or contrast with each other?
DY: Without going case-by-case, there were many of elements we considered in our selection process. We wanted to see what up-and-comers would do on this scale, as well as pay homage and work with local artistic influencers. We wanted a heavy focus on diversity/culture and, of course, to invite some exciting international artists to help set the precedent.
GM: Are there any participating artists or festival projects that you’re particularly excited about, and would like to draw our attention to?
DY: Well, we’re deep in logistical stuff at the moment and things are still changing in terms of location and artist pairings. That said, to whet your palette I can mention a couple.
Firstly, we’re actually painting most of the walls on (in? on the exterior?) BAF. The largest walls, east and west, will be painted by Corey Bulpitt and Ali Bruce. If you’re familiar with the City Centre Motel you’ll know it’s a giant green beast of brick stack. The German duo Low Bros will be coming in to give it a major facelift to its southeast corner.
GM: How does mural painting play into your own personal artistic practice? You’ve worked in large-scale paintings before – do you find murals to be a natural extension of that work or a different experience of creating altogether?
DY: I don’t really get to do murals all that often, but when I do, I usually approach them just like a big painting. Also, most of the murals I’ve done are not truly massive in scale (think 20’x20’) so I don’t really need to rethink process. When it comes my potential wall, the south-facing wall of The Cobalt, the surface area is about four times bigger than anything I’ve done before. After the drawing, the process will break down into roughly 4 steps. I’m foreseeing it as: Big block-in to drybrush/scumble to site-specific rendering and ending with accents/rendering refinement/distortions. #shoptalk
GM: Most of your work has a figurative element – will the works in this show, and the festival, be continuing that theme or do you have something else in mind?
DY: For myself, I’ll definitely be working in figurative and representation, but as for all the other contributors, their approaches are quite varied. However I would say that there’s an underlying graphic quality to most of the work. We want walls to be high-impact. Producing murals in this limited timeframe requires artists to have a strong sense of design.
If you mean, is there a theme for this year’s murals, then no, we don’t really want to be hand holding when it comes to concepts and content. We especially steer away from the work feeling commercial or commissioned.
GM: What’s your greater aim in putting on this festival and what are you hoping to bring to Vancouver by doing so?
DY: To transform how art is seen in this city. We want to illustrate how unique our arts community really is. We need to teach the next generation that art and self-expression are not important, they’re crucial. Wouldn’t it be cool to hear kids argue about their favorite artists?
Come see Andrew Young and a host of other local and international in the Vancouver Mural Festival Year One show, opening July 14th at the Burrard Arts Foundation, 108 E Broadway.
For more information about Vancouver Mural Festival visit:
Text by Genevieve Michaels and Drew Young