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A Mutual Benefit

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When the oldest John Fluevog Shoes location on Granville Street, in downtown Vancouver, needed a new look, store manager Patrick Davidson thought of holding an international competition for artists to design a storefront mural: “The idea was to sort of refresh the store because it hadn’t been painted for a long time, and we wanted to incorporate something fun—something that would liven Granville Street.”

After a 5-month competition, artist Jorge-Miguel Rodriguez from Miami was chosen as the winner. Rodriguez then collaborated with John Fluevog Shoes to create the mural titled Bloom, which was based on an original Fluevog design. Bloom covers the storefront with abstract flowers painted in vibrant colours. “Once I saw the design for it,” says Davidson, “I was like, ‘Oh wow, this is going to be pretty loud.’ ”

Rodriguez’s mural benefits the store from both a visual and a business standpoint. Bloom communicates John Fluevog Shoes’ avant-garde approach to design: bold colours and unique, playful patterns. The mural also draws customer interest: “We even get people that have lived in Vancouver for years, or even in the neighbourhood, and they’ll come into the store now after it’s been painted and they will ask, ‘When did you guys open?’ ” Davidson says. 

Working on a mural for a business requires collaboration between the artist and the client. Sandeep Johal, a Vancouver-based visual artist and muralist, says “[Clients] often have a specific vision or a specific colour palette that they want incorporated, and so then I have to create what the client wants but still retain my aesthetic.” Johal’s work combines strong lines with imagery that represents her South Asian heritage.

Known for her unique style, Johal’s clients include the Vancouver Art Gallery and Lululemon. Johal’s work has also been featured in the Vancouver Mural Festival (VMF), which creates large-scale public murals that contribute to Vancouver’s growing art scene. Her 2017 VMF piece Girls Are Fierce Like Tigers, near the intersection of Main and Broadway, was her first outdoor mural: “With that mural, I received a lot of press and a lot of visibility because I was just starting out as an artist… there was absolutely a direct correlation with that mural and my subsequent projects and jobs.”

Murals not only help businesses and artists, but they also help build community. “For me, it is really important that my work is accessible,” Johal says. “People often feel really intimidated walking into a gallery space to look at work, and so if you can bring the gallery to them, I think that’s the best-case scenario.”

Though VMF helps spread accessible art throughout Vancouver, the festival has been criticized for gentrifying the city. With real estate companies like Edgar Development, Low Tide Properties, and Wesgroup as sponsors, the VMF murals have been seen as “artwashing.” In Melody Ma’s article in The Tyee, “Vancouver Should Stop Subsidizing Developers’ Artwashing and Protect Creative Spaces,” she defines artwashing as “a Trojan horse tactic [developers] use to ‘revitalize’ lower-income and working-class neighbourhoods where they own property.”

Johal believes VMF has made parts of Vancouver more accessible and inviting. “People tend not to tag buildings with murals on them, so it can decrease vandalism.” She adds, “when I was doing my first VMF mural, two women commented that they felt safer walking through the alleyway now that there was art in it, and I never thought about that… I never walked through that alleyway until I did my mural, and now I walk through all the time because [other] people walk through.”

Living in Mount Pleasant, the location of many VMF murals, Johal can see the benefits they bring to the neighbourhood. “Every day when I’m out walking with my son, we see these murals on a regular basis, and it creates this sense of pride in your community,” she says. “I think it can bring people respite from these rainy days during the winter when things are pretty dark and gloomy, and I think these murals can be a real high point to the day.”

Davidson believes Rodriguez’s mural has increased both foot traffic and interest in the store. He says Fluevog has been in the heart of Granville Street for decades, but “it hasn’t really been noticed until recently.” He explains that Rodriguez’s mural has sparked interest in the downtown business community and suggests that other stores should follow suit: “Why not showcase art on buildings?” 

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