Talk-Back

3 May 2020 – It all starts with sitting safely in my stay-at-home chair, and clicking on this virtual tour of the Murals of Gratitude down in Gastown.

Go ahead! Click! I’ll wait for you …

I love these murals — 35-plus of them, by 20-plus artists — painted on the plywood covering shop windows boarded up to await healthier times. And I love what the project says about this neighbourhood, the way local businesses have expanded on a grassroots initiative, to create …

a testament to the influence the frontline staff has had on our community and a reminder that we are all in this together.

A friend and I decide to go see for ourselves. We were prepared to abort the visit, should there not be room to do it safely, but it is safe — wide sidewalks, few people, room to observe 2 metres of physical distance.

So we walk about.

Here in Maple Tree Square, Water & Carrall streets, right at the heart of it all, a statue of the first (white) settler in this founding area of Vancouver, the loquacious English immigrant turned Fraser River boat captain turned saloonkeeper & hotel-owner: Capt. John (“Gassy Jack”) Deighton.

Somebody has slung an “Anyone for takeout?” apron around his neck, a fitting addition given his pubkeeper background — and fitting for the area as well, which in normal times is a tourist/entertainment epicentre, pulsing with lights & laughter & music & action.

But those overlays are stripped away, at least for now, and Gastown is again largely the preserve of its own residents — a downtown, east-end community that, beneath the glitter, was already deeply stressed before COVID-19 came along.

So we see more than the “official” murals showcased in that virtual tour, we also see unofficial messages, by and for and about that local community.

Everybody talking with each other, and talking back to COVID-19.

Health messages, focused on local issues, sometimes in a leaflet pasted on hoardings …

sometimes in a one-off urgent graffito.

There are jokes with a marketing message thrown in …

and jokes with a political protest added later on (read the red small print) …

and thank-you’s that also have an editorial comment added later on (considerably more in-your-face).

There is a “heroes wall,” really just a naked corner of plywood beneath the window frame, with its growing number of inked tributes and post-its …

and a reminder, pasted on a number of the hoardings, that this plywood can be usefully recycled, some healthy day in the future.

And then there is this Stand United mural …

with added messages, by many hands, of hope and love and support …

radiating across hoarding panels to either side.

Messages butt up against messages, a cacophony that makes perfect harmony.

The work on the right, professional; the work on the left proudly signed “Phoebe age 7,” the p’s in her “Be happy!” message reversed but no less joyous for that.

We’ve been drinking it all in, impressed & touched & buoyant with the energy.

Then we see a board with nothing but shaky lettering on it, just words with no design flair at all. We stand still, moved to silence.

The text salutes yet another hero — but, this time, not a local frontline worker. It recognizes the RCMP constable on the other side of the country who died in that 22-person massacre on April 19.

And it goes beyond honouring Const. Heidi Stevenson, it comforts her children.

I hope, when life stabilizes into a new-normal, that it still includes the compassion and empathy so much on display in this time of pandemic.

 

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7 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing these wonderful photos and the link. ❤️

    Reply
  2. So interesting to see what is happening in other countries. Many messages and really quite emotive. I see that you have not lost your journalistic flair!
    I have never seen so much of Hayling and as there are very few people about I have to say that it is enjoyable

    Reply
    • fewer people does make for a more peaceful (& therefore perhaps more revelatory) walk, doesn’t it? I felt that way in Gastown, now stripped of its tourist/entertainment overlayers

      Reply
      • A lot of my friends retired are saying how calm it is . Not so many cars and no aeroplanes. I am glad that we have a garden although not huge! Take care Diana

  3. Love this post!

    Reply
  4. Things like this are what’s great about living in cities. We have nothing like these murals in our small town, but my son told me it’s happening in Seattle. In fact, he was trying to work out a way to bring it all together online or in a huge warehouse gallery space…I think he got too busy with other things. But the effect is moat powerful, I think, just seeing the spontaneous outpouring as you walk the streets. (We can hope for more good to come out of this, we can hope). Thanks, Penny!

    Reply

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  • WALKING… & SEEING

    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

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