Montreal’s Mural Festival
Street art is a phenomenon which hip cities long ago stopped trying to fight, and started to embrace. When it’s well-done, street art can beautify otherwise drab buildings, provoke thought, and even drive tourism. If you’ve ever wondered how the artists manage to make use of their building-sized canvases, you should check out Montreal’s Mural Festival, where you can see them at work.
Montreal is definitely a city that wants to be on the cultural vanguard, so we weren’t surprised to find a thriving street art scene here. Walking along Saint-Laurent Boulevard is akin to walking through an open-air museum, with massive works occupying every conceivable open space, and more traditional graffiti “installations” in the alleyways.
Mural, a festival which is in its third year, brings a sort of structure to the street art scene, by commissioning artists from Canada and the rest of the world to create new pieces. As you walk around St. Laurent, you’ll find artists with paint cans and sprays, bringing their new creations to life. You can also see the works which were produced in previous iterations of the festival. A large section of St. Laurent is closed to traffic for the duration of Mural, and a lot of festival-type stands open up. Snacks, artsy trinkets, palm readers… that sort of thing.
We enjoyed ourselves at the festival; it was fun to watch the artists at work, and see how large-scale street art is done. But still, something was irritating us about Mural. Visitors are encouraged to pay for a “VIP Tour” of the new murals, and buy a ticket to enter the “VIP Zone.” The main corporate sponsor is a phone company, and other partners include Barefoot Wines and Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola has heard that street art is cool nowadays, and since Coca-Cola is down with the kids, Coca-Cola is suddenly all about street art. Make art, live young, drink Coke! I can just imagine some marketing team coming up with a new slogan, and it makes me puke.
But as long as you can divorce your mind from the sadness of a movement being co-opted by the very institutions it was born to subvert, the Mural festival can be a lot of fun. The art is excellent, regardless of who it’s being sponsored by, and it’s hard to fault these artists for taking advantage of the opportunity. Even if you can’t make it to Montreal to see the current iteration of the Mural Festival, don’t worry; these works of art will be around for a long time.