7 ways to enjoy art outdoors before summer's over

Bike tours, festivals, open-air galleries and more. Ideas to help plan your next adventure.

Bike tours, festivals, open-air galleries and more. Ideas to help plan your next adventure

The Bump Festival in Calgary offers self-guided mural tours through its website. This year's edition runs to Aug. 30. (@yycbump/Instagram)

If you feel like hitting an art gallery, strap on a mask and go for it. Plenty of spots across Canada have started welcoming visitors back — but sure as your hands are raw from Purell, wandering a white cube's not for everyone right now. Maybe you're risk-averse. Or maybe you just love some Vitamin D. It's still summer, dammit. And if the sun's shining, you want to be out there. 

But there's a way to get a hit of culture with all that fresh air, and throughout the country, there are loads of options to explore. Here are some ideas to kick-start your plans.

Self-guided tours with a curator's seal of approval

Whether you're up for a lazy stroll or a 95 km bike ride, the Vancouver Biennale's "BIKEnnale/WALKennale" program has a wide range of self-guided art tours. (@van_biennale/Instagram)

Sure, you could just wander in the direction of your favourite big, odd public art thing. But if you're lucky, someone in your community's already crafted a curated, self-guided tour that'll turn an aimless summer walk into a proper adventure.

The Vancouver Biennial's "BIKEnnale/WALKennale" program is a particularly impressive example. For a small fee ($5 for individuals, $15 for groups), they'll hand over 18 maps — self-guided itineraries that lead to some of the city's top points of cultural interest. There's an app (obviously), which'll help you avoid getting lost en route to, say, Maskull Lasserre's Acoustic Anvil. (GPS FTW.) And while the guides are technically yours to try whenever, if you register before Aug. 30, there are extra perks to enjoy, including free bike-share passes.

Like the Vancouver Biennial, Art Public Montreal offers an extensive assortment of digital art maps. Whether you're getting around by foot, bike or electronic hoverboard thing-ee, the website lets you browse your options by theme, trip length and location, among other helpful categories. 

Find this mural by David Giral via Art Public Montreal's self-guided tours. (David Giral)

And in Edmonton, Art Tour YEG has four curated tours that can be accessed via Google Maps. Just like the art, the service is totally free, and according to their website, there's an old-timey print version, too. (Visit City Hall for a copy.) If their itineraries aren't exhaustive enough, there are always these art-park recos from the local CBC newsroom.

The head turning Vaulted Willow is a work created in 2014 by Marc Fornes and The Very Many studio. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

Tours with real, live human guides

They exist!

Not every tour operator is back up and running, but embrace the staycation vibes and reach out to a company near you for info. This Montreal outfit says they offer "COVID-friendly" tours of the city's murals, and the Toronto chapter of Tour Guys does daily 4 p.m. trips through Queen Street West and Graffiti Alley. (Guests must book their tour the day before, and according to a company rep, group sizes are capped at 15.) 

Build your own itinerary 

Calgary is one of many Canadian cities with a searchable public-art database. (Screen capture)

Maybe you're an independent spirit ... who really, really loves homework. So many Canadian cities have websites dedicated to their public art collections. This list is nowhere near exhaustive, but to give you a notion, let's just rattle off a bunch of links: Victoria; Kamloops, B.C., Calgary, Saskatoon, Ottawa, Fredericton, Toronto. (There's even a whole separate database for Toronto's street art.)

Fire up Google Maps and go. 

Galleries that aren't galleries

If you're in downtown Victoria, the Commercial Alley Art Gallery is one quick point of interest. Effectively a brick wall turned solo exhibition space, local artists are the focus, with the featured talent switching over every year. 

Find work by illustrator Emily Thiessen at Victoria's Commercial Alley Art Gallery to August 2021. (

Galerie Blanc in Montreal is a more super-sized version of the open-air concept — or "open-sky," to use their term. A maze of white walls occupying 8,000 square feet, this free Sainte-Catherine St. attraction is open 24/7. Now showing: work by Christto & Andrew, Noah Kalina, Genevieve Gaignard, Maya Fuhr and Alexandre Berthiaume. 

Galerie Blanc in Montreal. (@galerie_blanc/Instagram)

And come the fall, another outdoor gallery will pop up elsewhere in Montreal. Artch, an annual showcase for emerging artists, runs Sept. 9 to 13 at Dorchester Square.

The 2019 edition of Artch at Dorchester Park in Montreal. (@artchmtl/Instagram)

August 29, a brand new arts venue called Lowlands Project Space will open in Edmonton, and they're marking the occasion with an outdoor exhibition called Castles of Butter. It's just a one-day deal, so visitors have until 10 that night to catch the show.

(Totally DIY) galleries that aren't galleries

People were art-ifying their neighbourhoods long before COVID. (Check out Kal Barteski's Polar Bear Alley in Winnipeg, for instance.) But the pandemic's prompted more folks to launch their own pop-up galleries. Fences are standing in for white walls in Winnipeg and Regina. And in Twillingate, NL, yarnbomber Nina Elliott (a.k.a. The Rock Vandal) has blitzed the place with so much textile art she's calling it "Newfoundland's first outdoor art gallery."

Unidentified fibre object? An example of the Rock Vandal's handiwork. (@rock_vandal)

Sculpture parks

Or go a more traditional route, and enjoy the outdoor exhibitions at an institution like the Art Gallery of Guelph. Their Donald Forster Sculpture Park is the largest of any public gallery in Canada. Stroll among pieces by Evan Penny and FASTWÜRMS. Maybe even try their official scavenger hunt. Admission's free, and if you're a Toronto staycationer, it's a very doable day trip. 

Visitors to the Art Gallery of Guelph's Donald Forster Sculpture Park take a seat next to Passages by Kosso Eloul. (@AGGuelph/Facebook)

Same goes for several other contemporary-art sculpture parks, like the Oeno Gallery (Prince Edward County) and the Haliburton Sculpture Forest

The Oeno Gallery Sculpture Garden at Huff Estates, Prince Edward County. (@oenogallery/Instagram)

The Ivan Eyre Sculpture Garden at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection is yet another example, and the museum's been bringing some of its programming outdoors. (Meditation/painting workshop, anyone?)


The options are few, and public safety protocols are in effect, but the pandemic hasn't completely squashed festival season. In Montreal, artists are painting live in the streets as part of Mtl en Arts. (The event's been presenting mobile "mini murals" in the Gay Village since July; the festival wraps Sept. 13.) 

Pascal Foisy works on a painting for MTL en Arts. (@mtlenarts/Instagram)

Calgary's Bump Festival is another opportunity to watch mural artists at work. Maps and performance schedules are on the website. (DJs are playing a few key painting sites.) 

Take a self-guided tour of Bump Festival murals. Maps are available through the Calgary festival's website. (@yycbump/Instagram)

For a more outdoorsy experience, the Sound Travels Festival of Sound Art runs to Sept. 21 on the grounds of the NAISA North Media Arts Centre in South River, Ont. The installations will change over the course of the festival. (Matt Rogalsky's Octet, which broadcast birdsong recordings from the trees, wrapped Aug. 17, for example.) Imagine a nature walk curated by experimental artists.

Or explore outdoor art without leaving your car. Nuit Blanche Regina will be lighting up a patch of downtown this Saturday, Aug. 29, with a free event called Art Night. Featuring eight artist projects, it's designed to be a drive-by experience, and runs from 8 p.m. to midnight.


Leah Collins

Senior Writer

Since 2015, Leah Collins has been senior writer at CBC Arts, covering Canadian visual art and digital culture in addition to producing CBC Arts’ weekly newsletter (Hi, Art!), which was nominated for a Digital Publishing Award in 2021. A graduate of Toronto Metropolitan University's journalism school (formerly Ryerson), Leah covered music and celebrity for Postmedia before arriving at CBC.

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