The once new idea of the street art festival has not only become mainstream, it's actually become better than ever. An example of the improved event—generally known as a gathering of artists, local and/or global, to paint public walls in one city—is MURAL festival in Montreal, which occurs annually and has grown significantly in its three years of existence.
MURAL takes notes from other festivals, as in, it improves and beautifies its community, while putting a spotlight on local artists. However, it additionally brings international artists to the city, provides opportunities for education, and gives visitors ways to follow the artists beyond the festival. Montreal is known for being a city that supports artists and designers, and MURAL shows how the city's love of street art is one-of-a-kind.
We caught up with co-founder André Bathalon during this year's MURAL to see what it takes to start a street art festival and where he wants to take it next. View some of the murals from this year's festival above.
How long have you been interested in street art? At what point did you say, “I’m going to turn my love of this into my own festival?”
I have always have been into art in general. In the beginning, I was an artist. I was fascinated by 2D animation. I had been doing cartoons for almost 10 years.
Early on I became fascinated by e-commerce, too, and the many ways you can do business online. I decided to represent some of my artists online. I was selling their work when I discovered bounty hunter toys and Secret Base in the early 2000s. I was really fascinated by the fact that art can not only be produced as a limited edition screen print but also as a toy—a tangible 3D item.
And then Paul Budnitz and Tristan Eaton created Kid Robot, and that was everything I loved in the same company: creating a middle point between merchandise, accessibility, and artists. These were often artists from the street who were perceived as “low-brow” artists. So I started selling those toys, and I was really in love with that movement and by the fact that now the streets had become accepted and loved.
Companies were then eager to lend their branding to artists, and that drove me to do a project called “Safe Walls.” It was an art tour I proposed to Cirque du Soleil to choose different shows that were traveling the world. The plan was to choose artists from each city, and to ask them to create their vision of what the Cirque du Soleil posters should be. For two years I commissioned 18 posters of different shows to artists like Travis Louie, Sweet Toof, Ron English, and Tara McPherson. It was a dream come true.
By doing this, I was able to travel the world, and that’s how I ended up in Wynwood in 2009 and I met Tony Goldman, who was asking artists from all over the place to paint the walls there. This neighborhood that was dangerous and ugly changed because of art all in a year. Each year I’ve gone back and connected wall owners with artists, so that I could help the creation in some way.
In 2002, I co-founded the Landmark production company in Montreal. We wanted to do something structured, branded, and strong that would allow us to give opportunities to Montreal artists but also our friends from all over the place. June is the best month to visit and to create an awesome celebration here in the city.The artists create something that stays on the walls and helps us to survive later on when the winters are really tough. It also creates a huge gateway so that people can be more educated about art and street art. For us, murals can attract people, but once they’re here, they can learn more about the artists and their styles, watch documentaries, listen to a talk, or participate in a workshop.
So that’s what we’re offering. The MURAL Festival is about accessibility to art, and then at the end of the festival, we close the whole thing with music, and the artists are finishing their walls, so Montrealers and visitors can appreciate the whole thing. But the great thing is that the walls stay there long after the event. Now we have 50 walls, and when I say wall, I don’t mean just a 12 x 10, I mean two stories high minimum.
What are you trying to bring to MURAL specifically that you haven’t seen elsewhere?
I’ve wanted to bring organization. I want everybody to know who did each artwork. I’ve wanted for people to not be afraid of art. I know that when people think of art in the street, they everyone has a different perception. Montrealers love art, because here we have so many awesome artists. I want them to know that what we have is amazing, and to cherish it, because you have it here in your own backyard. It’s a celebration for Montrealers but also for the whole world to see. Montreal is an awesome canvas.
How have you seen the festival grow in ways that you didn’t expect in the first year, now that it’s been happening for three years?
The first year we did it, everybody thought it was the third year of MURAL, actually. Everybody thought it was really natural for us to have that type of event here in Montreal. Montrealers were really ready for this type of event.
The first edition was really popular. We got nearly 800,000 visits for the 34 days of the festival. So we repeated the whole thing with more preparation. With the first edition, we only had four months to do it. Now more and more people want to be involved. Everybody’s putting energy into creating something awesome and beneficial for everyone: for the city, for the artists, for the merchant, and for each of us as individuals. Each of us is really motivated to create. And it wouldn’t be possible without that army of people who believe in it. We all do this for free, because we like the result, and we like to see everybody having fun. We like to see artists gain from it, because they know the whole world is looking at Montreal for that particular week.
I looking forward to next year, and I want to do things better. I want to re-appropriate the spatial use. I want to use the sky on the main boulevard, and walls that we can’t paint, but maybe we can use them for installations or projections. I’m equally excited to show a seven-story wall as I am to show a two-inch installation. I want people to develop a third eye for art and realize that lots of artists integrate their artwork into your path, and most of the time you don’t even know it.
I like how by each mural’s location it credits the artist and gives you their Twitter handle so you can follow and learn more about them.
I wanted to correct the whole thing about artists not being clearly credited. It’s the same thing for the party, and the same thing for the music. I’ve wanted the whole thing to be attractive for the artists, as well. There are lots of artists who create around the festival but aren’t actually sanctioned by us, and it’s great, because the festival becomes a rich ground for many more artists. People just bring their own canvases on the street and paint on them. It’s amazing. This one artist put tons of origami paper birds all around the boulevard. How amazing is that?