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Storm Brewing mural controversy could prompt Vancouver bylaw changes

City staff told East Vancouver brewery to remove its nine-year-old mural
Storm Brewing spent about $2,500 to have local artists paint its mural in 2014

Vancouver city councillors are voicing support for a mural on the side of East Vancouver's Storm Brewing, which city staff told brewery owner James Walton to remove because it depicts alcohol. 

Walton told BIV this afternoon that city staff first contacted him about six weeks ago, with a complaint about his mural.

"We've been going back and forth," he said. "They were like, 'You have to do it right away.' And then we're like, 'OK, well, we want to get it approved.' And then they're like, 'Oh, we can't approve that.'"

The beef with the mural is that it promotes drinking and shows kegs of beer with beer flowing out, and some rats seemingly consuming the beer and getting drunk. 

The mural also contains the large word, "Storm," and could be seen as an advertisement for the brewery, but Walton said that the brewery's branding comprises less than 10 per cent of the mural and therefore would conform to city signage bylaws. 

Councillors, such as Sarah Kirby-Yung, Peter Meiszner and Lisa Dominato, voiced support for the mural and relayed messages to Storm Brewing that they are looking into the matter. 

Kirby-Yung posted a Twitter poll, asking people to vote on whether Vancouver should change its mural and signage rules to allow local businesses such as Storm Brewing to have murals on their own buildings that include their business name and an artistic depiction of what they offer.

By early afternoon today (July 20), more than 90 per cent of respondents said that they supported business owners' abilities to do this.

"It's a fun mural by local artists and it doesn't make any sense to take away that expression, creativity and that experience," she told BIV this afternoon in an interview.

"Something I'm looking into is amending bylaws, and potentially bringing a motion to allow local businesses in our city to have murals that showcase the experiences that they're offering on their own premises."

She said that she has contacted Vancouver city staff and she believes that the director of planning has discretion about whether to allow Storm's mural. 

Walton said that he paid local artists about $2,500 to paint the mural in 2014, even though his company's social media posts said the mural is 10 years old.  

Murals give cities vitality, say councillors, heritage advocates

Murals, Kirby-Yung said, give cities character. 

"We're about to start the Vancouver Mural Festival," she said. "They're going to have their opening in another 10 days. People love public art. It makes the city vibrant and fun and interesting. They are a creative expression of who we are in terms of people, and cultural diversity. It humanizes the public realm and the city."

Heritage advocate and former president of Heritage Vancouver, Don Luxton, agreed. 

He noted that when some buildings have been demolished, there are murals or painted advertising on the sides of remaining buildings that become visible and are cherished.

He added that the city historically has taken pains to save heritage signs, such as the Kaplan sign at the corner of Granville Street and West Broadway, because of heritage value. The city cared enough about saving the BowMac sign on West Broadway that it in 1997 designated that sign as a landmark worthy of heritage conservation. 

"There are all the neon signs on Granville Street, like the Vogue and the Orpheum," he said. "These are all parts of our urban landscape. There's a history of sign preservation. There's a history of murals."

He said that he did not think that having kegs of beer in a mural would have detrimental social effects.

"It's kind of far fetched to see it as really being socially destructive," he said. "I would call that bureaucratic overkill."

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