Things like Street Meet need to exist in our city to remind us that art by definition need be creative, which needs be out of the box, which needs to challenge us a bit and make us uncomfortable at times. Like that older brother that we revere and respect, and maybe if we are lucky he will let us into his world just a little bit.
Street Meet is that opportunity to spend time artist, organizer, presenter, and community member while a little bit of history is made in the quickly changing heart of the city. The nature of street art is that it is ephemeral, it requires the artist and piece to constantly be influx between creation and destruction. You have to learn to be unattached to your masterworks, and so to is this moment in time as a community movement is born.
Only in it’s second year, there is a passion behind the project that is palpable speaking with the grassroots community that has sprouted up around this little festival uniting traditional Bfa’s with street writers with residents and business owners.
Sterling Downey and Melissa Proietti organize the Under Pressure festival in Montreal now in it’s 19th year. They shared an intense amount of spunky east coast DIY bravado with a traditional meak and modest Saskatchewan audience. Despite the intense heat and humidity in the small black box theatre the panelists held rapt attention as they meandered through various anecdotes that have shaped Under Pressure along the way from mall cop security to Masters dissertations to gentrification and volunteer management.
The east coast fire was not lost on these prairie folks as the evening continued at The Hollows ideas and conversation spread rapidly, sometimes meandering as if down a forgotten dirt road, making detours to visit family heirlooms and treasured memories of a community forged through long winters caring for one another.
Riversdale is going through an awkward growing phase where many residents aren’t sure if they are coming or going. This little street art festival offers something unique that can bridge the gap between old hood and new hood, that everyone can gather around without displacing either sense of identity.
Unlike some other festivals and events cropping up in the neighbourhood that focus on importing fine art to the community and bringing in many a distinguished special guest, Street Meet celebrates the creativity already happening in the community. This is the kind of culture that is the very fabric of daily life; you can touch it, witness it, have input on it, gather around it, all in the heart of the community. It makes art feel accessible again, not something behind a velvet rope to be murmured over.
Like Melissa and Sterling spoke about, when you get the community together and start talking, then you can start to address the fears, and arm individuals in the community with knowledge, but more importantly agency to be seen and heard and represented in their neighbourhoods and in their streets. This creates the space for people to gather and define their own definitions of art and culture where it matters most to them.
Sterling told the story of the youth drop in centre kids cleaning up graffiti two to three times a week in their neighbourhood because they care and take pride in their streets while the neighbours sat immobilized complaining to city council of those darn graffiti kids. Once the adults recognized the level of respect these young artists were giving the neighbourhood there was an appreciation that was made possible by not having to be afraid of it anymore. This was a great demonstration of the community building possible as we face further gentrification of our downtown core.
As Melissa said, passion has to come first. If you bring your A game and are not afraid to take a stand, fight for your voice, others around you will have to listen. You can’t be afraid to play with a full deck, and be willing to wait to find that key supporter that really aligns with your vision rather than trying to impose theirs on the community. As long as the voice is honest and from the heart of the community then there are none that can trifle with that kind of fierce dedication.
I look forward to taking in the rest of the festival this weekend. Back Alley Antics performs tonight at 7, and the artist walking tour is tomorrow at 1. I look forward to seeing you in the streets.