Coronavirus: Street art to inform residents on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

How do you communicate the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic to a community dealing with entrenched homelessness and drug addiction like the Downtown Eastside?

In the City of Vancouver’s case, the answer is partly through art.

The city has adapted its existing mural support program to help fund COVID-19-related murals to be painted on some of Vancouver’s growing number of boarded-up shop windows.

“It’s important because not everyone has internet,” said DTES community advocate Karen Ward, who wrote a message on one such mural near Hastings and Carrall streets.

That mural is a collaboration with well-known DTES street artist Smokey D, whose work has also helped communicate the toll of the overdose crisis.

The painting depicts a coughing figure and illustrations of the virus, along with advice to stay home, wash one’s hands 10 times a day, and avoid touching one’s face.

Not only do few people in the neighbourhood have internet access, said Ward, with bars and other gathering places closed down, they don’t have access to television either.

“People are hearing stuff on the street about this and that, and it’s and not always the most reliable information,” she said.

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“A largish public art piece like this communicates visually and really clearly, and it is talked about among people.”

Vancouver has budgeted $15,000 for the program, and can provide up to $400 in paint. Would-be artists must have permission from the relevant property owners, tenant or business improvement association.

Artists must complete the work in two to three days, and maintain social and physical distancing while working.

The city is also asking property and business owners to pay artists for their work.

Businesses or artists who wish to participate can find out more at

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