This week is the second annual Vancouver Mural Festival. Founded in 2016, the organization “provide[s] a platform for [Vancouver’s] vibrant young art scene to contribute to the city’s cultural legacy for years to come” through the creation of permanent large scale public murals. These pieces of art contribute to the aesthetic sensibility of the city, transforming blank walls into beautiful canvasses. But they are also spaces for community voices. The goal of the mural festival is not just to create more lively streets and urban spaces, but to engage the community through art. Their mission states:
“Our events and public art installations serve as catalysts for addressing a variety of cultural issues facing our city and artistic communities as well as highlighting local cultures and histories. These include but are not limited to public art policy, community building, environmental policy, reconciliation, highlighting Coast Salish history and culture, artistic censorship, diversity, cost of living, and the need for culturally sustainable development practices.”
Whether sanctioned or unsanctioned, murals are a key component of place-making. They may even have the power to change neighbourhoods. Community groups have been using murals for generations to inspire social change. In New York City, community-organization Groundswell was founded with the belief that “collaborative art-making combines the sanctity of personal expression with the strength of community activism — and produces unique and powerful outcomes.” To date, they have completed more than 500 community murals with youth and young-artists, giving them the agency to change their communities and their futures.
Murals are more than decorative, they’re change-agents. How can we better design mural art into our communities?