It looks like I travelled to Montreal during the July 4th Weekend at an opportune time. What was initially a planned out jazz festival sojourn, morphed into a tour a French-Canadian city with a vibrant street and graffitti art scene.
When walking around the ‘hood where my AirBnB spot was located, I saw murals practically every other block, so I assumed I booked a place in the Williamsburg of Montreal, thinking it was simply an anomaly, a hipster enclave within the city. But after a biking and walking tour, combined with a dinner convo with Pablo, a Montreal native and filmmaker, I came to learn about a few things.
For one thing, about two weeks ago Montreal played host to its 4th annual Public Art Festival (June 9-19). Sponsored by LANDMARK, and about 20 other corporations, this festival not only fosters the sharing and exchange of ideas among local, regional and international artists but also lets the city landscape (i.e. the sidewalks, buildings, storefronts) serve as their canvas.
The Festival, however, is not without its fair share of critics. Admittedly, I got that creepy-hipster-gentrification vibe about the whole thing because the street art outnumbered the graffiti by a wide margin.
The graffiti scene in Montreal dates back to the 1980s bombing era, and holds special kinship ties to Paris for obvious reasons. During this time, graffiti had a political edge in its messaging, which you could find displayed in typical post-industrial locations like the TA Wall and Redpath.
By the mid-90s, crews such as VC and graf writers such as Seven and Castro elevated the scene to a new level, passing the baton to artists such as Ja One, O’Clock, Ich and Bates and crews such as Crazy Apes.
Like most public art friendly cities, Montreal’s muralist community too is undergoing some internal discord between the street artists and graf writers largely as a result of the influx of corporate patronage. While corporate sponsorship has provided a source of income to these artists, corporations’ favoritism for street art over graffiti has raised unresolved questions about the reasons for doing street art in the first place. Does getting in bed with Corporate Canada mean the death of graffiti? Probably not.