The Mural Festival is this weekend and twenty-one new murals will soon inhabit the walls of Montreal. As the artists begin sketching and creating on their canvases around the Main, we sat down with the festival’s communications director, Andre Bathalon, to get a feel for this year’s festivities.

As a major generator of street art, conversation, and creativity, the festival explores the meaning of public art, the contribution of the artists, and the involvement of the community. Rather than taking a politically oriented stage, the festival acts as a mediator between the art, the artists, and the public.

“I don’t see the festival as a ‘Street Art Festival.’ Just the fact of being organized defeats the purpose of street art.”

Andre explained, “I don’t see the festival as a ‘Street Art Festival.’ Just the fact of being organized defeats the purpose of street art.” He prefers the term “public art” because that’s what it is at heart: art created by and for the public.

So the art had to be made publicly available without being a covert operation. Clearly by placing the murals on the side of the city walls in broad daylight this became a reality. Thanks to community collaboration, the murals are free to the public and will remain so as long as they’re around, though they certainly required a fair amount of resources. The money, Andre told us, came from both corporate and individual sponsorship. However, to make this match their vision, they refused to accept any organizations that wouldn’t somehow contribute to the creative vibe.

Now that the festival is organized and the resources gathered, issues of permanency arise; the first day of the festival is greeted by rain, but the artist’s creations face more than just the elements. As six of the old pieces are erased forever, it may seem like part of the city is being lost. But where the old is erased, new art springs up. With twenty-one new murals proposed – the six walls will be refilled and fifteen entirely new walls will be created – this year promises to be very exciting.

Fortunately, all the challenges have been overcome. Andre sees his team as a point of connection between artists, politicians, owners, and sponsors and, partially due to their hard work, the Montreal community has welcomed the art with open arms and the future of the festival is looking bright.

But the decline of lower St. Laurent as a cultural hub was also central to making this possible. Over the past few years, St. Laurent has seen its fair share of shop closings, and the unique cultural core it used to be has been replaced by mostly bars and restaurants. While food and drinks can be great, Andre explained that they wanted to bring people back to the Main for a different reason, to give it back a unique identity that it seems to have lost over the years. The community embraced their idea because they saw a way to revitalize their neighbourhood; the festival’s organizers saw a chance to make Montreal an international hub for art.

But the mission ultimately comes back to the people of Montreal; Andre and his teammates want people to be foremost inspired by the art. To accomplish this, the festival encourages all kinds of creative experimentation. This year and the future will showcase some very interesting pieces that will be subtler than the giant murals. Andre explained, “I’d love artists just putting tiny dime-stuff everywhere so that people would have to look for it. I’d love for people to find something common and think it is art. People have to develop their ‘third eye.’”

In this way, the festival will make the entire neighbourhood (not just the walls) into an art piece, forcing us to see our environment in a more creative way. Seeing art in the public space might bring it back into our lives and, perhaps, make us all a little more creative.

Check out some more photos by Erik Bashatly, here: