Sowing an artistic seed 

Collaborative mural project unfolds at the Fields building in downtown Squamish

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Every community has one neighbourhood that needs a little extra love. In Squamish, that neighbourhood is arguably the downtown core, which was established during World War I. And while older buildings may have a certain "je ne sais quoi," there's a fine line between "charming heritage property" and "eyesore."

Over the past year, many businesses like Random and Le Petit Burrow, have taken it upon themselves to improve their storefronts. Others have painted or put up new signage. On top of that, members of the Downtown Squamish Business Improvement Association (BIA), seem to be working hard on improving the aesthetic of the area, sprucing things up with their "Streetscape Improvements" program - furniture, lighting, patios, facades, banners and public art.

"It's always been part of our mission statement to beautify the downtown through all sorts of streetscape stuff," explained Eric Armour, president of the BIA and owner of Trinity Romance Shop.

Now, they've joined forces with a local artist, embarking on an ambitious mural project smack-dab in the middle of the downtown core.

"A lot of (downtown) is very dated - 1970s and 1980s architecture with cinderblock walls and all this kind of stuff. And it hasn't had love in a while," Armour said. "Pursuing this mural project is just one way of getting those blank canvases painted."

Stan Matwychuk is the director of creative development for Homebase Studios, an artistic collective that started in Whistler in 2006 and recently relocated to Squamish. Homebase opened an art-run studio and gallery on Second Avenue at the end of June. The alternative, grassroots network of artists from the Sea to Sky region uses the traditional, contemporary gallery concept but with a bit more flexibility and freedom (and fun). It provides them with a new home for art classes and gallery shows.

Of course, these new downtown digs also inspired a new project: a mural on the 400-square-foot south-facing side of the Fields building on Cleveland Avenue.

"I had visited Squamish a couple of times and I was really sort of taken aback by the potential of it," Matwychuk explained.

"I just sort of saw this wall years ago and I was like, 'I'm going to paint a mural on that one day.'"

To this artist's way of thinking, a mural is the perfect way to add a splash of new life to the area, while getting the community involved at the same time. See, Matwychuk isn't going to be the only one working on the mural. He's recruited a few of the kids from his "Ambush Street Art" spray painting classes to help out with the project.

"I think it's important to have that community pride instilled in something like this, that's so centrally-located," he said.

The design for the mural is simple: seasonal scenes of fields (of course) rolling off into the distance, with mountains in the background.

"It's going to be almost colouring-book style, so it's going to be very obvious from a distance and it's just going to be brighter and brighter as you get close to it," Matwychuk said.

But making the mural a reality has been a bit of a drawn out process. Matwychuk got the ball rolling almost five months ago, when he discovered that the Hudson's Bay Company owns Fields. He began combing the corporate directory, looking for the person who could make his idea a reality.

"Eventually, I got talking to the right person at the Hudson's Bay Company, and they were like, 'yeah, we love the idea, we love the project, but we don't have the budget for it.'"

But the community rallied: BIA provided letters of support for the project, Home Hardware stepped in with the supplies and funds raised by Trinity Romance Shop's annual James Bondage party paid for Matwychuk's time and efforts.

So far, the community response to the mural seems very positive: Matwychuk was set up in front of the site on Canada Day, promoting the project to the public while face painting kids in the crowd.

"Everybody was actually really, really supportive and excited," Matwychuk said. "They've all seen this wall being painted white for years and there's been some changing of the guard, slowly. So the ideas of the moment are of colour and change."

Matwychuk hopes his Fields mural may be the first of many for the area.

"As soon as one thing happens ideas sort of domino effect, and I think murals have that power and painting and art have that power," he said.

He plans to begin work on the Fields mural this week. He hopes it will be complete by the end of July or the end of August, at the very latest.

"If people are interested in helping me, I would be interested in seeing what they can contribute."

Anyone wanting to help out with the project should visit www.homebasestudios.ca.

 

 

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