Montreal's MURAL festival wants both locals and tourists to 'rediscover their old streets'

From hosting global stars like Skepta and Shepard Fairey to championing local artists, the organizers of the 2022 MURAL Festival are determined to stand out in a year with an endless stream of returning festivals.

The outdoor art festival will feature dozens of murals from both Montrealers and global art stars

A mural from Marc-Olivier Lamothe, part of this year's MURAL Festival in Montreal. (MURAL Festival)

From June through September, Montreal is awash in festivals. This year, MURAL, which runs from June 9 to 19, will overlap with eight other arts and culture festivals, including the Montreal Fringe Festival and Francophone music fest Les Francos de Montreal, as well as Formula One racing's Canadian Grand Prix.

"Sometimes there's like three or four big shows or events the same night," says the festival's general director Pierre-Alain Benoît.

After doing smaller, modified versions the festival in 2020 and 2021, Benoît was excited to get back to bringing a full slate of artists — including street art legend Shepard Fairey and pop art phenom Hatecopy — to put up new works along Boul. Saint-Laurent. The festival also features a whole new set of musical acts to play at night, including U.K. rapper Skepta and The Brothers Macklovich, consisting of Montreal natives, and actual brothers, DJ A-Track and Chromeo's Dave 1. 

It's always a challenge for a festival to stand out from the crowd, something Benoît says MURAL has been able to do in part with their largely free combination of music and public art, and by cultivating a dependable core fanbase. But this year, he says, the challenges were even greater.

"It's the global context, right?" he says. "Inflation, supply chain problems, HR availability, cost of life, everything. So from a production standpoint, it was really challenging."

The festival started in 2013 with a pretty simple goal: what Benoît calls "building up a legacy of street art in Montreal," bringing some of the world's best artists to Montreal, and giving locals a chance to show their art to the city and the world. He adds that he and the festival were lucky to start up at a time when graffiti was really crossing over into the mainstream and becoming something tourists look for when visiting a city.

"It was already a movement that was expanding a lot when we started," he says. "So we were kind of at the right place at the right time. And if we didn't do that, we wouldn't have profited from that global expansion as much and as quickly as we did."

Looking through MURAL's lineup, it's striking how many local Montreal and Quebec artists are included, even as the festival has gotten big enough to bring in global art stars like Shepard Fairey. ("It was really something, an accomplishment for us to get him to come to our show for the first time," says Benoît of Fairey's inclusion.) That balance of artists from Quebec, the rest of Canada, and the rest of the world isn't accidental. It's something that's always been top of mind.

"We knew that [MURAL] would help shed a different light and international media on what our own local artists can do," he says. "But we also knew that it would help us sustain ourselves better by bringing [Montrealers] who wanted to see international artists. So it's kind of a virtuous cycle."

In addition to the art, MURAL has had a musical component almost from its inception. Like the artist lineup, the performers represent a balance of international stars (Skepta, Lil Yachty) and Montreal natives (Pierre Kwenders, Lunice, The Brothers Macklovich). Benoit says the inclusion of music in the festival was in part a result of the long-standing relationship between graffiti and music, particularly hip hop, but it was also based in something more practical as well.

"​​What do I do to make people stay longer on my festival site?" he says. "Well, I do shows, I do events, I do more. You come, you see the art, you stay there for an hour, and then at some point you leave. But when you have la musical rendezvous that you can go to, music shows, it makes you stay longer. So that's how we did it when we started building up a 10-day event."

Benoît says that this edition of the festival, in addition to being a celebration of art and music, is a chance to get reacquainted with the joys of public art. 

"That part of the street is going to be closed to cars for 11 days," he says. "[Visitors] are going to discover 20 new murals in and around that street. And we didn't provide that exact experience in the last two years. So I hope people realize they shouldn't just come back for the art, or one specific artist, or beers, or music, but to rediscover their old streets." 

The 10th edition of MURAL runs June 9–19 in Montreal.


Chris Dart

Web Writer

Chris Dart is a writer, editor, jiu-jitsu enthusiast, transit nerd, comic book lover, and some other stuff from Scarborough, Ont. In addition to CBC, he's had bylines in The Globe and Mail, Vice, The AV Club, the National Post, Atlas Obscura, Toronto Life, Canadian Grocer, and more.

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