Street Art and Mural Tourism Basics for DMOs

Colourful murals created by a variety of established and emerging artists have been popping up all over the world, injecting cities with beauty, culture and art-focused tourism over the past few years. They are so prominent and popular that they have even become their own segment of tourism, called ‘mural tourism’ or ‘street-art tourism’.

What Is Mural Tourism?

Mural tourism uses street art or mural art to enhance the look and cultural vibrancy of a city or city area. It provides governments, residents and tourists with a unique opportunity to take part in tourism that is cool, colourful and beneficial to a destination’s social and economic status—especially in regards to minority groups and the poor. While many see it as a way to combat urban blight, it also serves as a way to encourage graffiti artist to use their talents for social change. By participating in street art, they can prevent the decay of their neighbourhoods, encourage new business, while also opening up career opportunities for themselves.

Street Art Origins

While the origins of the mural boom are not clear, many believe they began in international cities like London, New York and Philadelphia in the 1980s as a way to ensure the success of constructive and socially friendly anti-graffiti initiatives. For example, in 1984, Mural Arts, Philadelphia’s anti-graffiti network, was established and artist Jane Golden asked graffiti writers “to redirect their energies into constructive public art projects.” Her request was met with enthusiasm and became a “powerful tool for generating dialogue, building relationships, empowering communities, and sparking economic revitalization,” according to the Mural Arts website.

Now housed under the Department of Recreation, Mural Arts has contributed to Philadelphia’s social, economic and cultural initiatives, attracting a wealth of mural-focused tourism, international attention and recognition (Prince Charles and his wife Camilla toured the murals in 2007), in addition to art exhibitions and books. Needless to say, the efforts have been a tremendous success for the city, and now serve as a model for countless other cities across the world.

Mural Art in Modern Times

Nowadays, cities around the world are using mural art to engage tourists and locals alike. Vancouver, for example, recently launched its own annual mural festival that commissions murals from artists of all backgrounds in the city with the intent to use them as “catalysts for addressing many of the socio-cultural issues facing [the] city and artistic communities. These include, but are not limited to: public art policy, community building, environmental policy, reconciliation with First Nations, artistic censorship, diversity, cost of living, and the need for culturally sustainable development practices,” according to the festival’s website.

Art that Attracts the Masses

Held in the Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, the mural festival attracts an estimated 120,000 people to the area every year, according to Urban Hive. Thousands of tourists and locals alike flock to the neighbourhood’s streets and celebrate the city’s “diverse local cultures and their histories, with special focus on providing a platform for the local Nations’ contemporary and traditional cultural expressions and histories,” according to the festival’s website. There is also live music, a street party, in addition to educational tours.

The feedback regarding the festival has been overwhelmingly positive too. “When the community is walking by and they see this mural going up, there’s a sense of ownership and pride in it…. On the scale of the Mural Festival, the community-building aspect is huge,” says tour guide Tom Nichini in an interview with Traveller. He adds, “On the tour, you can see the art and appreciate it, and hear about its production. You end up learning stories, and some of the issues and culture of the neighbourhoods, “a critical facet of socially-responsible tourism that DMOs should take heed of for their own street art initiatives.