Montrealers call Saint-Laurent Boulevard La Main for a few reasons. The boulevard divides the city in half (between East and West) and its multi-cultural history gives it a distinct flair. In recent years, La Main has emerged as a hub for street art and creative types. That passion has expanded into nearby streets and boroughs, to public spaces and community centers, and to innovative urban art galleries.
Graffiti art now canvasses the entire island of Montreal. And yes, that pun was intended.
Did you know that Montreal has actively promoted public art for over fifty years? Beginning in 1961, the Quebec government required public building projects to devote 1% of their budget to art initiatives. That policy has helped produce over 3,500 public works to date. Today the city manages an online database, which helps everyone stay up-to-date on new projects. The map feature and mobile app are must-haves.
The flagship celebration of street art is the MURAL Festival. Saint-Laurent becomes pedestrian-only for over a week; local eateries and shops set-up on the streets; and local and international artists transform Montreal’s urban landscape one colourful wall at a time. In 2016 alone, MURAL hosted over one million visitors.
This year the festival returns for a fifth season, which runs from June 8th to June 18th. Spade & Palacio continues its partnership with MURAL again this summer. We run the official MURAL walking-tour – so see you on La Main!
The artists behind Montreal’s art explosion have ambitious agendas. Some seek to spark conversations about social issues; others hope to transform the city into an open-air museum. Each summer locals and visitors alike are won over by these missions. Montreal’s army of public art lovers only continues to grow.
Check out our list of can’t-miss artists, galleries, and organizations.
Montreal looked far less alive and colourful before MU came along. This non-profit organization has to-date created almost 90 murals and over 100 community projects. Their art promotes the unique cultural heritage and history of Montreal’s eclectic boroughs. Definitely find their murals in Chinatown (also located on La Main) and in Little Burgundy (the center of Montreal Jazz in the 1920s).
If that wasn’t enough to love, Mu collaborates with after-school programs to beautify spaces. In 2016 they completed Qanuqtuurniq – The Embassy of Imagination, a mural inspired by the imaginative designs of Nunavummiuts teenagers from the Canadian North. They’ve also worked to revitalize affordable housing projects in Montreal with truly stunning works of art. Don’t miss Phillip Adams’ four-year project (2012-2016) at the Habitations Jeanne-Mance. It’s only a few steps from Quartier-des-Spectacles.
A mainstay in Montreal’s streets (legally and illegally) since the early 90s. A-Shop’s founder, who goes by Fluke, was “mentored by the fathers of Montreal graffiti” beginning at age 9. Since then the group has created murals outside of Montreal (most recently in Los Angeles).
Their impressive murals span the entire city: from Working-Class Hero and Le Cycliste d’Hochelaga in the East-end, to When I’ll Grow up, I’ll be a Kid and Our Lady of Grace in the West-end.
It’s always exciting to see what A-Shop has planned for each season.
Station 16 & Fresh Paint
The oldest urban art gallery in Canada is Station 16. Honestly, it’s an institution. The official art gallery of the MURAL festival, Station 16 is centrally located on Saint-Laurent. Their exhibitions include both local and international artists with one common thread connecting them: work inspired by urban art and graffiti. The space is meant to challenge visitors and expand our definition of beauty in urban spaces.
Fresh Paint first opened its doors in 2011. But the gallery’s roots began much earlier. The gallery was an outgrowth of the Under Pressure festival: the longest-running graffiti and Hip-Hop celebration anywhere (22 years in 2017!). The gallery’s mission goes beyond simple art promotion. They encourage anything related to DIY and creative projects, and consider education especially important.
You should 100% plan to visit these boundary-pushing and community-oriented street art galleries.
This drawing collective has undeniably left its mark on Montreal’s urban space. Spontaneity is the defining feature of their work. And black-and-white is their M-O. Instead of a small team of artists, En Masse counts hundreds of contributors. A collective vision inspires their creations, which becomes clear when you see the final products. Their fascinating designs couldn’t come from one individual’s imagination.
Keep an eye out for their next public appearance. They include novice works too – albeit with some after-the-fact touch-ups.
Montreal’s most famous street artist on the international stage. A wheatpaste artist and vocal social critic, Miss Me was dubbed Montreal’s “premier street vandal” by VICE. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more badass ambassador.
The titles of her works speak for themselves: Lady LIEberty, Pussylluminatti, and Fake Ads, Real Bullshit.
Honestly, Miss Me just wins at life. Check out her website or, if you’ve got an evening free, walk around Le Main’s off-streets. You’ll inevitably run into some of her work. Share her badass-ery, strike up a conversation with strangers, or just impress your friends!
We’re lucky to have her.
You can find an interview with MISS ME on MURAL Festival’s website.
Welcome to the ever-growing fan club. If you’d like to observe artists and murals-in-progress on Saint-Laurent, plan to be in Montreal June 8th-18th. And while you’re at it — sit on a terrace with a drink, eat a flowered mango on a stick, and buy some second-hand clothes at a local Friperie!
And if you’d benefit from a kick-ass tour, we’ll see you around!