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Vancouver artists are decorating Gastown’s boarded-up windows with stunning murals

Some of the murals honour Canada’s top public health officials and health care workers
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A mural of Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, appears in front of Kimprint's Gastown storefront. | Screenshot via Instagram/@mygastown

Driving through Gastown these days, you might not even recognize it.  

Instead of the bustling hub it was just a few weeks ago, restaurants and offices are closed, while normally busy streets are empty, all in an effort to halt the spread of COVID-19. 

As you make your way toward 41 Powell Street - better known as the flatiron-style heritage building that housed the Hotel Europe - you’ll see that instead of the usual storefronts, the neighbourhood’s streets are now lined by boarded-up windows.

But just because businesses are closed doesn’t mean they have to look boring. Artistic murals of real-life superheroes and modern-day celebrities (or, rather, health care workers and Canada’s top public health officials) have begun popping up throughout the neighbourhood.  

The initial idea to decorate the bland, boarded-up storefronts was sparked by Gastown business owner Kim Briscoe, who wasn’t exactly pleased with the resulting aesthetic when she made the call to board up her business’ windows last week.

“People were starting to board up everywhere, but it just looked derelict, it looked terrible,” she says. 

As the operator of  Kimprints Custom Framing & Gifts, located at 41 Powell, Briscoe frequently works with local artists during a typical work week.  

So, “I thought, I'm gonna get those boards painted,” she says. “Of course, we didn't want to get into any kind of trouble, so the first thing I thought about is what's in the news, and who's in the news.”

She reached out to Vancouver artist Breece Austin with her idea. Austin grabbed her paint, made her way to the storefront, and, five hours later, a portrait of Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, adorned the once-empty sheet of wood. 

“It looked great; it looked fantastic,” says Briscoe, who proceeded to get in touch with a few more interested artists. “They came down the next day, and the other [portrait] that was painted right next to Dr. Tam was Dr. Henry,” painted by Abi Taylor. 

 

 

“Who’s going to say you can’t paint them on a wall?,” Briscoe adds with a laugh. 

The idea proved popular. Briscoe’s fellow business owners decided to hop on board, turning it into "a community initiative,” she explains.

The Gastown BIA is even working with local businesses to supply artists with not only paint, materials, honourariums and food vouchers for local cafes, but also sanitation equipment and items to create a safe perimeter while they work, according to a release, while the interested artists, in turn, provide the time, creativity and skill. 

 

 

Now, a series of murals has brought colour and life back to the deserted streets. The artwork features images of respiratory therapists, a health care worker throwing up a peace sign (instructing the public to stay two metres away from each other), a bird carrying toilet paper, messages of thanks and even a mural painted by Briscoe’s daughter that reads, “We love u Vancouver. Stay safe, stay strong. Be back soon. Stay apart and connected, we’ll get through this!”


 

 

“The response is fantastic. The neighbours stand on their balcony and they just clap,” says Briscoe. “Like, thank goodness it's not just a brown board anymore. It's some art that we can look at for however many weeks or months we’re going to have to have this up.”

It also serves as an opportunity for these up-and-coming artists to promote themselves, Briscoe adds. 

“There's a positive side to this, if we have to have a positive side,” she says. 

If you’re interested in taking a look at the murals, officials are asking that you avoid taking a walk to see them in person. Instead, they recommend adhering to physical distancing directives and doing so virtually, through social media. Briscoe, meanwhile, recommends hopping in the car and appreciating the art from the safety of your vehicle, if possible. 

 




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