Montréal has been honing its status as “mural city” for quite some time. First came the Under Pressure annual graffiti festival, which in 2021 celebrated its 25th anniversary – making it the longest-running event of its kind in North America! Under Pressure takes over Quartier Latin every summer with a graffiti festival that focuses on community development, artist empowerment and positive youth development, and gives a chance to Montréal artists to express themselves large-scale (and legally). It rallies its crowds together with live painting sessions, skateboarding, talks and music.
In 2012, MURAL festival joined the scene with the mission of democratizing urban art. MURAL has grown into a huge, unique international celebration of the arts that gathers a crowd of millions every year, with a stellar international portfolio of artists who’ve created over 80 murals and installations around the central strip of Saint-Laurent Boulevard. During the festival, visitors can see that year’s crop of artists paint live over three days of celebration, including dance parties, food truck gatherings and fun in the street, which is closed off to traffic for the occasion.
More mural projects
In addition to the art leftover from the festivals and the public graffiti works that may or may not be legal, there’s a slew of stunning murals that were fully sanctioned by the city. Montréal has a handful of publicly funded beautification initiatives that include mural works, MU being the most famous. You can credit MU for the stunning portrait of Leonard Cohen painted downtown by artists Gene Pendon and El Mac, as well as works everywhere else around the city, from Sainte-Marie to Little Burgundy. All were created in keeping with MU’s goal to transform Montréal into an open-air “MUseum.” The city also launched its own public art programme in 2015, funding five new permanent murals every year, to which you can add neighbourhood-specific programmes like the Plateau’s Muralité project – result? Art, art everywheeeere.
A sky high love note to Montréal
In commemoration of Tourisme Montréal’s 100th anniversary, a large-scale mural seemed the most fitting way to celebrate a century of welcoming visitors to our city. In collaboration with MU, Chilean-born Montréal artist Rafael Sottolichio has created Façades on Peel Street. Cleverly, the mural offers a different experience from every angle – viewed from Dorchester Square, the piece pays tribute to the city’s neoclassical architecture, while the view from Sainte-Catherine Street reveals a trompe-l'œil of the modernist building the mural itself is painted on. Montréal has long been noted for its blend of trend-setting modernity with old world charm, and Façades pays tribute both to our city’s rich history behind us and the bright future ahead.
Goal! Home-run! Touchdown!
Montréal is a sports city, and it loves its champion athletes on an epic scale. Hockey has long been a local cornerstone of Montréalaise identity, and the Montréal Canadiens have just unveiled a widescreen mural to mark the start of the 2021 season that will have you exclaiming, “Go Habs, go!” Habs love has also prompted several fans to paint their own tributes to the team throughout the city’s streets and ruelles vertes. And no mural tour of Montréal is complete without a look at ASHOP Crew’s tribute to baseball legend Jackie Robinson at the southern corner of Napoléon Street and St-Laurent Boulevard.
Street art galleries
The street-art HQ in Montréal is arguably Station 16, an art gallery founded by the organizers of MURAL – an art promotion organization called LNDMRK – where during the festival and all year-long, you can see wall art produced by famous names from the international street arts scene. Past exhibitors include Stikki Peaches, Kashink and Chris Dyer. In Little Italy, Galerie C.O.A shows a variety of art that touches upon street traditions and represents Montreal artists who also create street art, such as MissMe. Nearby Galerie Yves Laroche exhibits art that includes some famous street artists too, including OTHER, Ron English and Jason Botkin. In Old Montréal, Matthew Namour sells art rooted in traditions of graffiti, tattooing, comics and pop art, including names like Van Arno, Jonathan Bergeron, Miss Van and Pose. And up in Rosemont, in a beautiful big space that also comprises a clothing shop, Artgang shows art by street artists including Sentwo, Étienne Chartrand and Crash.
Walking tours and more
Saint-Laurent Boulevard is a great place to start a stroll to see murals by the millions, because it’s the central stretch for MURAL. But there are beauts all over the city, from NDG to downtown. If you’re a self-guided tour type of visitor who craves the convenience of going at your own pace and pausing for regular latte breaks, choose TourBird: this audio tour app has a top-notch mural tour that centres around the Main. They offer the Square Victoria to the Old Port tour as well as The Plateau’s Maze of Murals.
If you’d like a live guide, sign up for the Official Montréal MURAL tour, led by the knowledgeable experts at Spade & Palacio. Plus, MURAL has an app you can download for a digital guided tour! Graffiti bloggers Wall2Wall Montreal have also created a cool walking tour (just print the map and start walking). Interested in more kinds of public art? You’re in the right city. Start here!