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South Granville gets a head start on the 2017 summer mural season

June 8, 2017

Meinart? A new mural being added to the north side of Meinhardt Fine Foods on South Granville.

The 2017 Vancouver Mural Festival in East Vancouver doesn’t happen until August but the summer mural season is starting early on the West Side of the city.

One of two murals commissioned this year by the South Granville Business Improvement Area (SGBIA) is already taking shape on the middle third of the north side of the Meinhardt Fine Foods building, located on the southeast corner of South Granville Street and 14th Avenue.

The fine art of beautifying a shopping street

One of the 11″ by 17″ mockups being used to guide the creation of the Meinhardt mural.

When I saw it on Monday (June 5), the unfinished mural appeared to be a stark depiction of black and white zebra stripes but I was told that when the final shading is added it will be revealed as the very picture of luxurious fabric, fit for the high street shops of South Granville—or so explained Ed Spence, the young artist creating the mural.

However, whether the mural depicts white fabric with black stripes, or black fabric with white stripes, Spence did not say.

A panoramic view of the mural-in-progress on Monday evening (June 5).

The artist did tell me on Monday that he was no more than three days away from finishing the mural, which he said was his first solo project.

According to Sharon Townsend, the executive director of the SGBIA, another mural will be created in the next few weeks by artist James Knight, three blocks north of Meinhardt, on the back wall of the Purdys chocolatier store, located on the southwest corner of South Granville and 11th.

Meet last year’s models

The 7th Avenue mural painted by Milan Basic and based on a Kristofir Dean painting.

This is the second year in a row that the SGBIA has commissioned murals to grace buildings along the upscale shopping strip of South Granville.

The 13th Avenue mural by Ola Vola.

In 2016 it was an equestrian-themed mural by Ola Vola, just off South Granville at 1520 West 13th and a supergraphics stunner by Vancouver muralist Milan Basic, after a painting by Hamilton-based Kristofir Dean, at 2321 South Granville and 7th.

The planned James Knight mural will make  a total of four murals along South Granville Street, between 7th and 14th Avenue.

Cans of paint, buckets of money and help from friends

Sharon Townsend described all four murals as purely a SGBIA initiative, with help from the City of Vancouver and South Granville businesses and—in the case of this year’s two murals—operational assistance from the Vancouver Mural festival.

Sharon Townsend estimated that the total cost of the Meinhardt mural will run to about $12,000, plus all the expense that Meinhardt has incurred to get the job site ready.

The Meinhardt mural has been a three-way partnership—between the SGBIA, Meinhardt and the City of Vancouver Graffiti Management Program, which, explained Townsend, will fund up to $2,500 in supplies and equipment for murals.

The SGBIA also drew on the city’s anti-graffiti program for the 2016 7th Avenue mural, which Townsend described as a partnership between the anti-graffiti program and the SGBIA.

The 13th Avenue mural was apparently a purely SGBIA project.

The upcoming Purdy’s mural is also described as a three-way partnership—referring (I assume) to the City’s anti-graffiti program, Purdys and the SGBIA.

Townsend says that the SGBIA has been the driver and majority financial partner for all four murals and will continue to look for opportunities to add murals along South Granville.

“It requires a willing property owner with an open mind and some cash in hand to help kick start the effort. ​Obviously, the SGBIA resources are not infinite but I believe we get great bang for our buck with quality community art”.

The public-private partnership between Vancouver and its BIAs

The South Granville BIA’s funding—like the funding for all 22 of Vancouver ‘s Business Improvement Areas (BIAs)—comes from a special City of Vancouver tax levy of properties located within the BIA.

The City of Vancouver describes BIAs as specially funded business districts “managed by non-profit groups of property owners and business tenants whose goal is to promote and improve their business district”.

Contractors change the hanging plant baskets off South Granville on June 8–part of the SGBIA’s street beautification program.

Each BIA sets its own fiscal priorities and submits a yearly budget proposal to the City of Vancouver. Upon approval of the budget the City adds the necessary levy onto the tax assessment of properties located within the zone of the BIA.

The special tax levy which funds the operation of Vancouver’s BIAs could be characterized as an additional tax on shopping, both in the sense that it is raised and spent to make shopping areas more attractive and in the sense that property owners in a BIA naturally pass the cost of the levy on to their retail tenants (as higher leases) who, in turn, pass the cost on to their customers in the form of slightly higher prices.

Note: the budget listed in the SGBIA’s 2016 annual report is notably higher than the 2016-2017 SGBIA budget listed by the City.

According to the City of Vancouver, in 2016-2017, the Downtown Vancouver BIA topped all Vancouver BIAs with a budget of $2,685,676 , levied from 3,187 properties and the South Granville BIA was fifth with a budget of $615,500, levied from 114 properties.

BIA-funded murals vs. City funded murals

I have written about the South Granville BIA several times over the years—sometimes critically. But I have no problem with the South Granville BIA funding beautifying murals; this is the SGBIA performing its intended function of encouraging shopping on its street through marketing, maintenance and improvement.

The funding mechanism of the special property tax levy may lack transparency because so many Vancouverites have no idea what a BIA is but the levy is arguably fairer than taking general tax funds in the sense that it places the cost of the murals on the residents who shop in the BIA and directly “benefit” from them.

On the other hand, last August I sharply criticized the City of Vancouver for funding the 2016 Vancouver Mural Festival to the tune of $200,000:

  • Murals, I said, were too short-lived to make good public art.
  • And the East Vancouver locale of all the 2016 murals was ripe for tear-down and redevelopment.
  • Mostly I felt that it was wrong for the City to spend so many thousands of dollars on murals, even as it complained about needing to raise property taxes to cope with the ongoing overdose crisis.

Since the City is again contributing some $200,000 to the 2017 Vancouver Mural Festival I can only renew my criticisms of 2016.

At a time of intersecting crises of poverty, health and housing, I believe that the City administration is falling it’s core responsibility to address the safety and security of its residents.

Instead, Mayor Gregor Robertson’s team is fiddling away limited tax resources on frivolities that appeal to its young voting base—spending an unspecified amount of tax dollars on city bird votes; at least $250,000 on two mass bike rides this summer and another $200,000 to paint hip-looking murals on buildings which likely will be demolished for redevelopment within the decade.

Art can wait its turn

Consider the Downtown Eastside Drug Users Resource Centre (DURC), which provides important services for as many as 1,500 clients a day. The centre has lost its entire annual funding of $643,000 from Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) and is closing—in the midst of the worst epidemic of drug overdoses in Vancouver’s history.

Admittedly, VCH is a provincial agency but the City of Vancouver’s Art Boost budget of $490,000 (out of which the Mural Festival funding is drawn), plus the $250,000 for the two mass bike rides, would keep DURC going for at least another year.

And if not DURC, then there are any number of other pressing issues which, I would argue, should take immediate priority over the funding of public art.

Treating murals like the improvements they are

This isn’t to say that East Vancouver could not have all the Vancouver Mural Festival that it wants. As it stands, 35 of 41 Festival murals from 2016—all but the six between the Georgia Viaduct and Terminal Avenue—appear to lie within the boundaries of the Mount Pleasant BIA.

In that case, instead of going to the City of Vancouver to get $200,000 in 2016 and a further $200,000 in 2017, the $400,000 for the Vancouver Mural Festival should have been raised as part of the Mount Pleasant BIA’s 2016 and 2017 budgets through the special BIA property tax levy.

Raising the $400,000 through a BIA levy would mean that the amount would be borne (directly and indirectly) by the business owners and residents that actually frequent the BIA area and therefore directly benefit from the murals.

And insomuch as the Vancouver Mural Festival murals are improvements to the Mount Pleasant BIA it would be appropriate to fund them as such.

This kind of fundraising would also put the murals nearly in the same class as other local area improvements to residential streets and sidewalks, which are partly paid for by the Vancouver property owners who benefit directly from the improvements. Click the images to enlarge them.

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