Old Strathcona embraces identity as mural district

· The Pulse
By Fawnda Mithrush
in the Arts Roundup

Be it the abundance of bars and nightclubs, its proximity to the University of Alberta, or the robust clutch of theatre spaces surrounding the Arts Barns, over the years the Whyte Avenue area — recently branded as District Whyte — has been known for a variety of specialties.

But in recent years, the identity of the area has evolved into one with distinctive visual appeal care of the plentiful murals that are increasingly taking up wall space. Hence the new District Whyte Mural Map and tour programs.

"As a Business Improvement Area (BIA), we see tremendous value in enhancing our public spaces with art. In a recent survey of businesses in our district, investing in public art was one of the top three strategies our members saw value in," said Cherie Klassen, executive director of the Old Strathcona Business Association (OSBA).

While a handful of murals in the neighbourhood go back to the 1990s and early 2000s, the trend has ramped up substantially over the past five years, with nearly 50 of the current 60 murals and street art painted since 2016.

That year, the OSBA also began supporting and funding murals more directly. One of the first being The Paint Spot 6, where the eponymous art supply store and gallery commissioned six works for its large east-facing wall. That was also the first year that Rust Magic added three murals in the area.

The OSBA contributed a mural of its own in 2020: The Rainbow Road appears along the walkway in Spur Line Alley, thanks to artist Amos Kajner-Nonnekes.

OSBA has also partnered with Nextfest, the Fringe, and Grindstone Theatre on their own mural efforts, and are encouraging the mentorship of emerging artists. This year it'll add RADO-Alley to the list, a mural festival running Sept. 4-6.

OSBA worked with McQueen Creative to design the first version of the mural map, which quickly sold out its initial run — and they're already working on a new version, with pins for around 70 murals to be dropped by the end of summer.

Jill Stanton's Green Forest Wall.

Jill Stanton's Green Forest Wall is one of nearly 60 works featured in the Whyte Avenue district's growing mural collection. (Old Strathcona Business Association)

"We've had such a positive uptake on our mural maps that we're working on a plan on how to utilize them even more next summer and create more mural tours. They're a huge hit," Klassen said.

So could it be possible to make Mural District the area's official title in the future?

"We wouldn't rule it out!" said Klassen. "We did just launch our District Whyte brand to better showcase everything happening across Old Strathcona, on and off Whyte. So, officially, we'll stick with this for a while, but we are embracing our place in Edmonton as a true mural district."

The current District Whyte Mural Map is available to anyone online as a PDF postcard.