Urban Canvas Street Party: Saskatoon artists paint the town

Saskatoon’s first Urban Canvas Street Party brought painters out of the studios and into the streets, in a celebration of artistic diversity.

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A paved parking lot became a painter’s paradise at Saskatoon’s first Urban Canvas Street Party, where local creatives celebrated the city’s artistic diversity and talent.

Over the two-day festival in early September, dozens of artists descended on a parking lot outside Midtown Mall to paint the four tall sides of a ‘mural cube,’ compete in ‘art battles’ and work on collaborative art pieces.

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With so many artists working together, mural artist Chad Coombs said the street party brought a new side of Saskatoon’s art scene into the public eye.

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Mural artist Chad Coombs stands for a photo at the Urban Canvas Street Party in the Midtown parking lot.
Mural artist Chad Coombs at the Urban Canvas Street Party in the Midtown parking lot in Saskatoon on Friday, Sept.r 8, 2023. (Michelle Berg / Saskatoon StarPhoenix)

“This is pulling the blanket back and showing who is playing with paint in the city already,” said Coombs. “You get to see how everybody does their stuff. Every single person’s stuff is different, and everyone is good in their own way.

“We’ve all got a different approach, different styles, different tools, different techniques. It’s so cool to see someone who is super detailed painting on the other side of the cube from someone like me, who’s abstract and minimalist. It’s fun, because you see a spectrum of difference.”

Dakota Ray Hebert paints her mural at the Urban Canvas Street Party in the Midtown parking lot.
Dakota Ray Hebert paints her mural at the Urban Canvas Street Party in the Midtown parking lot on Friday, Sept. 8, 2023. (Michelle Berg / Saskatoon StarPhoenix)

The event brought together artists of all ages and experience levels. Professional mural-painters worked alongside artists who had never painted a wall before.

“So far, it’s just like painting a really, really, really big canvas,” said first-time mural artist Dakota Ray Hebert. “I’m really excited. I’m excited to see what people thing, and if they’ll take pictures with it.

“I can’t wait to see where it goes.”

Hebert’s artwork often features Bigfoot, and two aliens named ‘Monty’ and ‘Mortimer’ — so the trio showed up on the mural, too.

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“They’re saying hi,” said Hebert. “This is their first time being this large. And I even made a spot for humans to step into the picture if they so wish.”

Hebert said as she listened to the crowd cheering her on, and looked around at the other artists’ work-in-progress, she felt inspired to take on more mural projects in the future.

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Dakota Ray Hebert shows off a sketch of their mural-in-progress at the Urban Canvas Street Party on September 8, 2023.
Dakota Ray Hebert shows off a sketch of their mural-in-progress at the Urban Canvas Street Party on Sept. 8, 2023. (Julia Peterson/Saskatoon StarPhoenix)

She hopes events like the Urban Canvas Street Party will keep happening in the city, to give her and others the chance, she added.

“It gives seasoned artists a chance to flex their skills, and it gives early artists such as myself a chance to further develop our skills. This is really fun. I’ve never seen a parking lot so cool.”

Seven-year-old Martina Russell participates in a collaborative mural at the Urban Canvas Street Party.
Seven-year-old Martina Russell participates in a collaborative mural at the Urban Canvas Street Party on Friday, Sept. 8, 2023. (Julia Peterson/Saskatoon StarPhoenix)

A few mural cube walls were reserved for members of the public — children, especially — to get in on the fun.

“Today I was looking at all the art happening around, and then I got this crazy idea to mix all these colours and just smash them on this wall,” said seven-year-old art fan Martina Russell, grinning with a paintbrush in hand. “We’re all collaborating, and then at the end, it’s an art piece.

“I think it’s 100 per cent cool.”

Around the centre of the parking lot where the artists worked on their murals, a craft market featured work from local artisans, food trucks served up hot meals, experienced skateboarders taught lessons and music pulsed from tall speakers.

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“It’s a whole vibe,” said event organizer Carrie Catherine, walking through the festival with her paint-splotched clipboard. “We’ve got these street artists here that are reminding us of the role of public art and street art and graffiti. But to amp it up, we’ve got DJs and pop-up Indigenous performers and a skate park. So we brought together all these elements that build on each other.”

Carrie Catherine laughs while spraypainting a car as part of a public art project
Carrie Catherine laughs while spraypainting a car as part of a public art project at the Urban Canvas Street Party in Saskatoon on Sept. 8, 2023. (Julia Peterson/Saskatoon StarPhoenix)

Catherine even tried her hand at graffiti on one of two vehicles people at the Urban Canvas Street Party were invited to decorate under the guidance of ‘retired graffiti artist’ Mitch Speed.

“I think any time somebody is getting interested in art and expressing themself, that’s a good thing,” said Speed. “Whatever the art form is — whether it’s writing poetry, or doing graffiti, or making movies, or music, or anything. I think it’s great. People expressing themselves is fundamentally good.”

Speed, who grew up in Saskatoon, said an event like this — taking artists out of the studios and into the streets, where anyone can try to make something new and everyone can appreciate their work — has been a long time coming.

“I think it shows a good attitude, and an openness, to people being involved in this kind of art. People are being creative on the spot. It’s fun, and public, and free. It’s a nice thing.”

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The mural cubes will be on display in and around Midtown Plaza this fall, to continue sharing the art from the Urban Canvas Street Party with new audiences.

Even before the paint had dried, artists were already setting their sights on what the future of a mural festival in Saskatoon could be.

“They do these things in Toronto and Vancouver, and now some other cities too, where they have mural fests with actual walls,“ said Coombs. “So I hope this gravitates to that, and some of the industrial buildings in Saskatoon take advantage of the idea and join a festival like this.

“Hopefully, this is a seed that grows.”

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Director of Right to Skate Sarah Kelly puts on a skateboarding workshop
Director of Right to Skate Sarah Kelly puts on a skateboarding workshop at the Urban Canvas Street Party in the Midtown parking lot on Friday, Sept. 8, 2023. (Michelle Berg / Saskatoon StarPhoenix)

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