On the heels of the controversy over Rodney Graham’s $3.6 million Spinning Chandelier installation under the Granville Street Bridge, a former haven for the homeless that is now part of the luxury developer Westbank’s new $575m Vancouver House tower project, come new accusations of “class warfare” in the city.
This time, the catalyst for the controversy is street art, and the target is the veteran Vancouver Sun columnist John Mackie, who wrote an article last week decrying the damage done during the pandemic to public art and buildings by enthusiastic graffiti taggers in Vancouver’s downtown eastside, Canada’s poorest postal code. In a city where real estate remains shockingly unaffordable and homelessness is a major issue, Mackie’s point about the graffiti covering a commissioned mural by First Nations artist Corey Bulpitt, as well as historical buildings in the area, was lost in a slew of allegations of classism on social media.
Local street artists—some of whom contributed to the area’s Covid-19 educational murals last spring—responded to the article with a unique “letter to the editor” in the form of a mural. Painted on boarding at 62 E Hastings, home to an inhalation tent run by the Overdose Prevention Society (which also sponsors local graffiti art), and under a mock masthead of “The Vancouver Scum”, was their message: “Vancouver Sun reporter John Mackie cares more about graffiti removal in the Downtown Eastside — rather than the ongoing overdose crisis/pandemic deaths. Graffiti in the DTES is sometimes the only warnings street users get — as to the dangers of COVID19/contaminated supply…. Priorities.”
Framed by a wall of graffiti, a cracked billboard by local billionaire Jim Pattison’s signage company and social housing, the mural could have become a new landmark. But after one of the artists involved, Trey Helten, says he was warned by city officials that it was “illegal to make a mural that is directly targeted at an individual,” it was soon covered up by more urgent graffiti: reminders about Covid-19 vaccinations.