2016 was the inaugural year of the Vancouver Mural Festival. This celebration of public art saw the creation of over 35 new murals from 40 artists around the world. Combined with 20+ bands and 150+ local businesses, the Vancouver Mural Festival was a huge success and we were fortunate enough to catch up with David Vertesi, the executive director and co-founder of the festival to see what he learned and how you can be involved in the public art scene in the city of Vancouver, even if you aren’t the next Banksy.
Low Tide: So David, how did you get involved in the mural festival?
David Vertesi: I am a musician, and have been part of the arts for a long time through music. I started getting involved in arts advocacy 5 or 6 years ago through a fundraiser I co-founded called “Sing-It Forward” that raised money for the Saint James Music Academy, to provide music lessons for kids who can’t afford them. It was an amazing and collaborative group. But I wanted to step it up a notch, with the final goal of advocating for the arts, and giving people meaningful experiences with art that had tangible outcomes for the community. This all happened right as I was falling in love with street art, murals and graffiti. I loved seeing people do these events, and have these tangible murals that would stay all year and really create a legacy.
Low Tide: You started in music and were part of the band, Hey Ocean!. Visual art is quite different from musical art, how did you find the transition?|
David Vertesi: It was great, there was a lot that was applicable. I have worked as a marketer, a talent scout, and also on events, so there was a lot I could apply to it with my role as a facilitator. I also do think that coming from a different arts background actually helped. In this case there was a lot of distrust between different groups, whether it was residents, the city, developers or artists. People don’t really believe that you are doing things for the right reasons. Coming at it with a different background allowed me to moderate between these groups.
Low Tide: What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome?
David Vertesi: It was really the first time this had been done on this scale in Vancouver. A lot of the rules weren’t made for something like this. We wanted it to be something that artists, businesses, the city and neighborhoods really owned. So there was a lot of persevering and finding key partners who would start from yes. Some people we went to said yes right away. They admitted there would be hurdles, but they were happy to try to help us figure it out. Low Tide was like that too which was really great – really focused on starting from a place of “this is a great thing, and let’s see how we can help you do this”. And then other people get on board as they see others want to help.
Low Tide: So how did you get building owners and artists on board?
David Vertesi: Well for building owners we thought we could find a shortcut. We figured there would be a master list that we could get from the city with every owner and address, but that didn’t exist. We ended up knocking on doors, which took a lot of time, but really helped because it introduced us to the business and property owners. To find artists, we have an amazing curator, Drew Young, on our team. He is an amazing artist himself, and he has done curation for Squamish Valley Music Festival, and TEDx and he really spearheaded the curation of the artists. He has a huge arsenal of artists that he doesn’t just know, but has worked with. And on top of that artists the he is always checking out new up and comers.
Low Tide: How do you think public art impacts the neighbourhoods?
David Vertesi: As someone who wants to advocate for art in all forms, murals are almost this gateway drug for art. People who may not feel totally at home at a gallery, or in a theatre can have an easy experience with art, and build rapport with it. It’s funny, I think we were so focused on the festival, we didn’t fully think about creating this “mural district” that Mt. Pleasant has now become. Mural tourism is a big draw in a lot of cities, and now we have people talking about more than just our natural surroundings, which is also amazing. Now people are talking about Vancouver and it’s incredible, multicultural history. We wanted this festival to push people to really wear that arts scene that we have from this city.
Low Tide: I love art, but am a terrible artist. How can people get more involved in “wearing” this arts scene if they can’t put a mural on a wall?
David Vertesi: There are so many ways you can support the arts scene in Vancouver. You have to see where it fits, but going to events like SNAG, Eastside Culture Crawl, the Biennale, and seeing all of these incredible galleries makes a huge difference. Giving yourself a license to go and check it out, see what it’s like and know that you are welcome in these places. The bigger the audience is, the more we have a population that gives a shit about art. The more that do that, the better. The best thing you can do is to consume art. That is the movement we want to champion.
Low Tide was happy to be a sponsor, and provide a building that participated in the Vancouver Mural Festival. We are excited to see the streetscape in Vancouver change as this festival grows. If you are an artist, a building owner, a sponsor or want to volunteer, you can sign-up at the Vancouver Mural Festival website, at www.vancouvermuralfestival.com. We also encourage you to go to check out 780 East Cordova, where we had 7 murals painted onto every side of the building, by 9 different artists.