Walking through downtown Chilliwack is like perusing an outdoor art gallery.
The inaugural Chilliwack Mural Festival features eight Canadian artists who have transformed drab brick walls and boarded-up doorways into colourful works of public art.
The art event runs Aug. 7 to 20 and includes five Chilliwack artists: Mavik, Chris Woods, Carrielynn Victor, Carin Bondar and Kyle Mirva. They are joined by featured artist Kevin Ledo of Montreal, as well as Oksana Gaidasheva and David Ullock (aka Druvid) both of Vancouver.
It all came about when organizer Amber Price “ran out of walls” at her business, The Book Man. The back walls of her store have been enhanced with four different murals over the years.
Her love of murals is so huge she wanted to beautify neighbouring businesses. So Price began to research mural festivals and ended up meeting up with a woman in Nelson, B.C. last summer who was organizing the second annual mural festival in that city.
When she was in Nelson, Price saw a piece by Kevin Ledo. She instantly knew she wanted one of his murals in Chilliwack and soon after began planning for the inaugural Chilliwack Mural Festival.
Then COVID-19 hit.
“I’ve been dreaming of this for a year… it’s just a shame that we can’t have the party at the end.”
She had big plans for a youth-focussed wrap-up party with skateboard halfpipes, dancers, live music, a light show and a DJ.
When the pandemic hit, plans changed.
She then decided she would bring just Ledo into town to paint a big mural. But, one thing led to another and it “snowballed” from there. Before she knew it, the Chilliwack Mural Festival had grown to eight artists.
The event is in partnership with the Chilliwack Community Arts Council and the more than $22,000 in funding comes from the arts council, Chilliwack Economic Recovery Network, The Book Man, Tourism Chilliwack, City of Chilliwack, and Chilliwack Citizens for Change. Additionally, various local businesses and families have pitched in money and supplies.
The murals are located in the area of Wellington Avenue, Mill Street and Victoria Avenue and they range in size and theme.
Ledo’s piece is of local singer-songwriter Inez Louis. It is, by far, the biggest mural in the festival taking up the majority of the back of a brick building located at Victoria Avenue and Mill Street. The image of Inez for the mural was taken by her husband Justin Louis.
Other pieces include a rainbow coloured mosaic glass mural by Bondar, an abstract “dream creature” by Druvid, and a rabbit by Victor.
One mural that was completed in Court Lane off Mill Street is of a “kitty yawning,” said artist Gaidasheva. It’s not an angry cat as some people have suggested.
Some artists project their image on the wall and then use pencil to outline the design, others use a grid as a guide, while some paint freehand while looking at their work on a smartphone or piece of paper.
The artwork has been installed in the storefronts and walls of both occupied and vacant buildings.
“Some people sleeve their arms, I want to sleeve all the buildings,” Price said, referring to people with many tattoos.
One objective is to attract folks, and not just the locals, to downtown Chilliwack.
“My goal is 40 permanent pieces in the downtown. That’s enough to make people pull off the highway and come downtown.”
Having done a lot of research on public art over the years, Price explains some of the benefits.
“Statistically it lowers property crime, it raises civic pride and it gives people points of conversation.”
It also makes people slow down in their travels and interact with the art, whether that be by taking a photo of it or chatting with a stranger about the piece.
“It creates these little pockets of art all over the place. I think these things raise our feelings of happiness and connectedness.”
Price said Chilliwack’s youth experience “brain drain.” They leave to go to cities like Vancouver, and she wants to draw them back to Chilliwack.
“I want to show them that the creative class is valued… that their work, their minds are valued here.”
As of Thursday, Aug. 20, all of the murals will be complete.
And although there won’t be a big party to wrap it all up, Price is encouraging people to walk around downtown and enjoy the newly installed murals safely while supporting local businesses.