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What role do murals play in a city? For the City of Vancouver’s Mural Program, murals reflect the community back to itself, painted by community members, for community members. And when the COVID-19 pandemic erupted in Vancouver in the late winter of 2020, closing businesses and emptying city streets, murals brought life, hope, and key messages to the neighbourhood streetscapes.
“With the streets empty and with an uptick in graffiti, including a prevalence of racist graffiti, the city appeared and felt depressing to many people. Business owners promptly boarded their storefronts to protect the facades from vandalism,” describes City of Vancouver’s Anna Marie Repstock.
But then, in April, murals started to appear, first in Gastown, and then in other parts of the city. Business improvement associations were working with artists to paint murals on the boarded-up storefronts.
“At this time the Mural Program team had been reduced due to necessary staffing rearrangements within the department, but as a nimble program we were able to adapt and create a process to meet the demand for the storefront mural initiative,” says Repstock. “We generated a simple application that included permission from the property owner, tenant, or BIA, and we asked that participating businesses and communities provide artist fees. Artists were required to work individually, follow health authority recommendations, and maintain two meters of physical distance at all times.”
Many of the murals provided uplifting messages, portraits of health officials, and gratitude for health care workers. Some included key health messages about wearing masks and keeping socially distant.
Vancouver’s Mural Program has a number of goals: to contribute to a stimulating public realm and enrich the street experience for both residents and visitors, provide resources and opportunities for community expression, help local communities improve their public spaces, support artists with diverse backgrounds and ranges of experience—including local and emerging artists, ensure fair representation of various identities and styles of artwork, and encourage stewardship.
|Download Spring 2021|
For more on the operations of Vancouver’s Mural Program and the murals it has supported in partnership with Vancouver Mural Festival, see Repstock’s “Muralists Capture Portrait of a City” in the Spring 2021 edition of Input. Download Spring 2021
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