The 2022 festival features the work of 21 artists.
“We want to create an event not only for the community to look forward to annually, but that’s also good for commerce,” Gaspar said. “There’s the potential to turn this into something that not only helps artists and the community but also acts as a draw throughout the year.”
The mural at Broadway and Seventh won the Vancouver’s Downtown Association 2022 HeART of Downtown award, which recognizes businesses that enhance downtown through art.
New murals this year include work by Portland artist Alex Chiu, a first-time participant in the festival. He painted a portrait of Leah Hing at the corner of Sixth and Main streets. Hing was one of the country’s first licensed Chinese American pilots and trained at Vancouver’s Pearson Field.
Chiu estimates that he’s used about 50 cans of spray paint to complete the 30-by-12-foot mural. That’s not cheap.
Large-scale, professional murals can cost thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars, Gaspar said. He credits the Ke Kukui Foundation with fundraising to defray costs.
That aside, Chiu said that he and other artists are participating for altruistic reasons.
“It’s more like we’re trying to build community and share the experience with one another and it seems like people are welcoming the idea,” Chiu said. “We’re part of the process of supporting Ricky (Gaspar) and what he’s trying to do. We’re trying to support his bigger vision.”
Gaspar hopes to shine a spotlight on the work of tattoo artists and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) artists. Some people might not put the work of tattoo artists under the umbrella of fine art, Gaspar said, but these murals showcase their incredible range and talent. The murals have now become an integral part of downtown Vancouver’s Arts District.
“If you just do your thing and try to do some good, it comes back around,” Gaspar said. “The community that takes care of you, you take care of them as well. That’s Indigenous-style living where everybody should win.”
Gaspar said he appreciates the way his neighboring business owners and Vancouver’s Downtown Association have really gotten behind the Great River Arts Festival.
Like the tide that raises all ships, Gaspar said, the murals are good for everyone. He’s energized by the festival’s potential to turn plain brick and cement into a feast for the eyes. Like ink on skin, he and other artists are transforming the face of Vancouver.
“For an artist, that really gives you the energy of creative juice — when you have limitless possibilities,” Gaspar said. “That’s a blank canvas.”