Our fair city is just a little bit more colourful than it was since the second edition of Mural Festival took place last month. Local and international artists painted 20 new murals along the Main. The festival started under the rain but thankfully the sun came out just in time, allowing the artists to work on their walls. Some artists kept painting despite the rain such as RONE, from Australia, who finished up his mural on St-Dominique just as the rain stopped.
A few of the walls from last year’s Mural were repainted but most of them were done on brand new walls adding even more art to the city. Kevin Ledo’s breathtaking wall of a woman from the Hupa Tribe, inspired from a photo by Edward Curtis, is of a significant contribution to this year’s festival.
This year Mural introduced Le Market, a pop up shop in the Parc du Portugal, where festival goers could shop local to live music all weekend. Also new this year, in collaboration with ExCentris Cinema, screenings of street art or graffiti related movies. Patrick O’Connor’s Making A Name and Freights were two of the nine documentaries screened the first one focusing on Montreal’s graffiti scene and the second on graffiti traveling on freight trains. A wonderful initiative to educate on this underground culture.
Every day, the Block Party entertained the masses with live music in the parking lot behind Station 16. Kashink’s impressive, massive and colorful mural in the same parking lot is just a preview of her exhibition at Station 16 which runs until July 3. Walking around felt like being on a treasure hunt because Mural’s not just about paintings along building walls. In the spirit of street arts, Peter Schmittson decorated our streets with sculptures, Mathieu Connery painted our sidewalks, Labrona gave more colors to doors along The Main, Garbage Beauty beautified with calligraphy discarded items found on the curb. Finally, be on the lookout for hundreds of diamonds installed on walls all over the city by Le Diamantaire.
It’s now time for a walk around with the camera or your phone to spot all these treasures. Don’t forget some murals are on Clark, on St-Dominique and one at the corner of St-Urbain and Guilbault.
Well here we go again. The Société de développement Angus (SDA) just announced a $160 million, 12 floor development project for the corner of St-Laurent and St-Catherine, the heart of Montreal’s historic Red Light District and current Quartier de Spéctacles.
They’re calling it Carré Saint-Laurent. There’s supposed to be a market similar to Marché Atwater at street level, cultural organizations on the first floor and the rest of the floors split between residential and commercial space, the latter leased by the Quebec government for 25 years as office space for employees currently working in the Centre de commerce mondial.
If this sound familiar, it’s because just a few years ago, Angus tried to expropriate and demolish almost the whole block and build the Quadrilatère St-Laurent, a giant office tower for Hydro Quebec with a few boutiques and restaurants at street level. They failed.
Café Cléopâtre, a business located in a historic building with a strip club downstairs and an independent burlesque, drag, theatre and fetish performance space upstairs, refused to leave. Artists, heritage experts and people defending the rights of sex workers fought the PR battle while Cleo’s owner Johnny Zoumboulakis challenged the expropriation in court and won.
While the similarities are obvious, there are a few key differences. First, look at the promoters.
Angus and its head Christian Yaccarini were front and centre last time around, joined by then-mayor Gerald Tremblay and his Union Montreal administration, who had given Angus a no-bid contract to complete the project. While Hydro Quebec had agreed to rent out the space, the Charest government largely stayed out of the debate.
This time out, Angus and Yaccarini are again prominent but Quebec Premier Pauline Marois is by his side and was part of the announcement. The city hasn’t said much, aside from new mayor Denis Coderre appearing in the photo op.
As for the opponents, last time everyone, be they history buffs, anti-gentrification activists or ordinary people who felt that the corner of St-Laurent and St-Catherine needed buildings that were at a more human scale, gravitated to the cause to save Cleo, making Zoumboulakis and the artists he housed their champions. This time, it’s not so simple.
Café Cléopâtre is not in the wrecking ball’s crosshairs, at least not yet. While I wouldn’t be surprised if Yaccarini’s plan is to drastically change the neighbourhood around Cleo so it will stand out like a sore thumb and want to move, that hasn’t happened yet and is not part of the official plan.
That means arguments that Quebec and the SDA want to evict a bunch of artists from an entertainment district can’t be made. Also, Zoumboulakis can’t wage any legal battles over who his neighbours will be.
If the fight to save Cleo the first time out was turned into a movie, it would be emotional and riveting. This would be the sequel where Brad Pitt (I guess Zoumboulakis) has to take a supporting role.
While many of the same artists seem to be on board for the fight (if the Save the Main Facebook page is any indication), it’s not going to be about them or the Cleo. The fight against this development has to focus on heritage and what role that will play in the future of the lower Main. Instead of focusing on what Yaccarini and Marois are proposing, it should focus on what they’re not proposing.
A market with small, independent vendors is a good idea and one that should occupy some of the space. But what about other nightlife to compliment Cleo? Maybe a live music venue or two? Another bar?
This area needs small businesses that are independently owned. Kind of like those that were there before the SDA decided to expropriate everyone.
I’m all for residential space, but not condos as they are proposing for the St-Catherine side. This isn’t an area for condos, it’s an area for nightlife and could be a great place for those who thrive in that nightlife (such as independent artists who may not be able to afford condos) to live.
Above all, this is not an area for government offices or tall buildings. There are other parts of town where such things fit, the lower Main isn’t one of them.
The lower Main was, is and should always be about Montreal. It’s not about the Quebec state or upscale establishments, just look at how the 2-22, Yaccarini’s other project across the street, is failing.
The lower Main needs to be redeveloped based on what the area is and has always been. That was happening on its own organically a few years ago, but then the SDA and the city put a stop to it.
I think the best way to proceed is for someone to expropriate all the properties that the SDA seized a few years ago from the SDA and sell them at affordable rates to a bunch of independent business people who get the street-level, independent nightlife vibe and who can actually get things moving the right way. Clearly Christian Yaccarini and Pauline Marois don’t know what this area needs.