A Vancouver artist has painted a thought-provoking mural on the Downtown Eastside in the hopes of raising awareness of homelessness and the need for social housing.
Sean Karemaker, an award winning artist and graphic novelist, specializing in scroll-making and borderless storytelling, said the artwork was a tribute to his friend, and poet, Ron McGrath, who struggled with homelessness for a large part of his life.
The colourful mural, titled “Let’s End Homelessness Together,” is painted on the walls of Jennie Pentland Place, a First United Church social housing society on East Hastings Street, and combine a comic format with poetry by McGrath.
The images inspire thinking outside of the box for solutions to homelessness and show people working together to find a positive resolution.
McGrath lived on the Downtown Eastside and was a Megaphone magazine vendor who Karemaker often collaborated with, before he passed away in 2017.
“My goal as an artist is to encourage empathy and self-expression with my storytelling,” Karemaker said.
“Ron wrote beautiful poetry about his life, and I provided illustrations. When he passed away I felt compelled to find a way to find representation of his ideas in a public way.”
Karemaker said McGrath suffered from a condition he described as “environmental Illness.”
“His sensitivity to chemical smells and perfumes made it hard for him to live within the existing shelter system,” Karemaker said.
“Ron imagined and wrote about a world where people like him might get some relief.”
Karemaker will be unveiling the mural in January, along with a plaque with a biography about McGrath and his poem “Lets End homelessness together” in its entirety.
“What I feel Ron was trying to communicate with his poem is that we as a society can start to affect change around homelessness in our city,” Karemaker said.
“It doesn't have to start with government officials or money power structures but it can begin with individuals taking some kind of small or large action to see or change issues of homelessness or social housing.”
In the City of Vancouver's 2019 homeless count, 2,223 residents identified as homeless, 614 people were living on the street and 1,609 people were living in sheltered locations, including emergency shelters, detox centres, safe houses and hospitals, with no fixed address.
Karemaker’s hoping the mural will inspire people who walk by to help others who are in need in whatever way they can.
“Empathy is the most important emotion we posses as human beings,” Karemaker said.
“I think it’s really important that we start to understand that we are all the same, if we wouldn't accept homelessness for ourselves or our family, we shouldn't accept it for anyone else within our community.”
The mural, funded by the BC Arts Council and Vancouver Park Board, is located at 540 East Hastings Street.
See more of Karemaker's artwork on Instagram.