Vancouver Mural Festival, at the core of its structure, does not represent a culturally diverse or marginal perspective as you might expect from a mural festival. Instead it is the initiative of a group of predominantly white men who have built alliances, not with the everyday people of Vancouver, but with real estate developers, Business Improvement Associations (BIAs) and the City government.
While arts and culture aren’t bad things, governments and developers have increasingly instrumentalized them as a way to stimulate market value in marginalized and working class communities. Under intense pressure by the City to develop, BC Artscape is the latest wolf in sheep’s clothing making an incursion into Chinatown.
On a cold Saturday night in January a haphazard line-up has formed outside the Fox Cabaret. Everyone is underdressed – young women with leather jackets draped over tank-tops and men with tight black jeans, thin t-shirts, and undersized polo hats. Above, the refurbished façade glows red, hinting at the building’s previous incarnation as a worn-down porn theater. However, the crowds outside are not here to enjoy “adult entertainment,” they have come to dance at one of Vancouver’s up-and-coming nightclubs.
During the last weeks of August, many Vancouverites spent time checking out the city’s first annual Mural Festival – an exhibition of 35 murals by over 40 local street, graffiti and mural artists mostly clustered around the lower Main Street corridor. The event was sponsored by a $200,000 grant from the City of Vancouver, with additional support from Mount Pleasant BIA and Burrard Arts Foundation
Last spring, an Economist article declared Vienna, Geneva, and Vancouver to be “mind-numbingly boring” cities. The concept is well worn. The author of the article doesn’t claim to be making some grand statement on Vancouver. Nonetheless, Vancouverites responded explosively. A lot rests on our city being desirable. There’s a looming sense that somehow this matters. Even in local artistic communities, defined by a sort of rejection of the placid kind of fun that Vancouver offers, musicians and artists and label-heads are quick to reject the title “No Fun City.”
A small media storm emerged last week after a profile of Socially Responsible Vancouver tours appeared in Travel section of the Toronto Star. Since 2014 the tours have charged tourists $185 per person ($195 for two people, and $275 for a group of 10) to view the Downtown Eastside.
Today we took to the streets and reversed the narrative by leading a “yuppie gazing tour.” Our message was that we’re not okay with poverty tourism. We flipped the script and made rich people into the subjects of our gaze, marching through Chinatown while chanting, “Downtown Eastside is not a safari, drive away in your Ferrari”
On November 13th, the City of Vancouver announced that it would launch a crackdown on illegal street vendors in the Downtown Eastside (DTES). The City’s director of Social Policy, Mary Clare Zak, informed DTES community groups that “starting next week you will begin to see a larger City presence in the DTES, including VPD officers, as we continue our efforts in the area to ensure it is a safe place for everyone.” According to Zak the objective is to “support and facilitate the movement of street vendors from the [0-300] block of E. Hastings Street and surrounding area.”