Montreal street art beautifies city, embraces social movements during COVID-19

How street artists have continued to contribute to a thriving scene amid the pandemic

Doras’s ‘Crux’ produced by Mu in 2019, Montreal. Courtesy Olivier Bousquet

With more time to really take in the orange cone-dotted city streets following closures and cancellations due to the pandemic, Montrealers have been audience to a thriving cultural staple of the city that has largely continued to chug along in the midst of the pandemic: street art.

“Street art has become so important because it’s the only art the public can consume right now. We need accessible art; we can’t necessarily be going to galleries,” said Doras, a Montreal-based muralist originally from Toronto. “People have time to think about their city and think about the way things are structured in their lives and their society.” The medium has a significant role in the structure and layout of the city that the pandemic has made hard to ignore.

Street art has the advantage of being able to be viewed and worked on in open air environments.

“When we go paint, it’s just us at the wall on our spots so we’re just naturally socially distanced,” said Hoar, a graffiti artist. Street artists have largely been able to continue creating within the pandemic’s restrictions.

Doras is pictured working on ‘Upstream’ in Calgary. Courtesy Funeh Aliu

This drive to continue creating street art has largely been met with enthusiasm by the public and opportunities from street art festivals. Many of them have continued to operate albeit with reduced lineups. 

Moule, a muralist originally from Marseille, said the Canettes de Ruelles festival provided support for artists in the form of a shop where they could sell their art during the pandemic.

“As artists, we already live in a realm of uncertainty. You don’t know when that next big thing is going to come.”

Hoar’s mural in Montreal. Couretsy Hoar

Many Montreal artists, including Doras, had the opportunity to participate in the YYC Bump festival in Calgary in August and were able to keep creating outside of the city.

Despite these opportunities, it has not been easy for all street artists to keep working. According to Doras, Montreal had already funded the majority of the arts and culture sector when the pandemic arrived. This made the initial economic impact less drastic for artists, but it leaves questions as to where this funding may go in the future to make up for new COVID-related costs.

“As artists, we already live in a realm of uncertainty. You don’t know when that next big thing is going to come,” said Doras. “There is a worry that funding isn’t going to be there in the future. Arts and culture may be cut in years to come.”

The abundance of street art in Montreal gives artists a prime opportunity to make statements.   A walk through the city reveals that artists do not just want to beautify their surroundings through their art, they also want to tackle the social and economic inequalities and obstacles the pandemic has highlighted, from the mainstream resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement to the ongoing oppression of Indigenous peoples.

“I think the streets of Montreal have flourished since the pandemic. People have been angrier than ever and have had more time to organize,” said Moule. “Vandal street art has doubled. A lot more political messages have sprung up in the street.”

Moule’s mural created in collaboration with Sibo featured in Montreal. Courtesy Moule

Street art has become an especially important forum for artists to both amplify voices calling for change and support the significant work done by essential workers. “When the pandemic started I did a few pieces with a nurse character for first responders to say thank you,” said Hoar.

The street art scene is ultimately showing no signs of stopping. The optimism and determination of street artists can be felt in the pieces, both big and small, that continue to pop up around the city. “People are surprisingly enthusiastic about street art, especially now,” said Doras.

Street artists are fostering a significant sense of community with citizens, a community that can be felt in the “ça va bien aller” posters on windows and walls around Montreal. It is a community that has proven to be vital in maintaining hope and a fighting spirit in the midst of so many obstacles.

As Moule put it, “I think we’re already getting stronger.”