A chat with Space Activator, CHAR LOCO, from artist collective SHAPESHIFTER STUDIOS.
Murals on city walls create an open public gallery for people of all walks of life, and can be enjoyed and appreciated by anyone. We had a whole parking lot curated with different kinds of programming that educated the general public on Hip Hop culture: Graffiti artists painting a memorial piece for local Vancouver graff writer Holden Courage, free workshops on break dancing, freestyle rapping, DJ'ing (by local DJ School Table Tutors) and a full on all-street-dance-styles battle.
Why did you create this event?
I created the Four Elements of Hip Hop Jam at the Vancouver Mural Festival to represent the four elements: Graffiti, Break-dancing, Emceeing, and DJ'ing. Hip Hop started as an underground culture in the Bronx, NY, during the 1970's — it was a movement of the streets as a result of the socio, political, and cultural climate of New York at the time. The artistic expressions that came out of that were music, movement and visual art. Graffiti as a style from the streets and as a statement of resistance (towards elitist art that said art was only in galleries and on white walls) made this an art movement accessible to everyone. It made a lot of sense for VMF to pay homage to that.
Having this event was a big deal for our community, as it's actually rare that people from these four micro-communities in each element actually get know to each other or come out and can jam in one space. It was also a rare occasion that we could be publicly share our art forms to an audience who might not have ever seen how the four elements come together in hip hop. Any opportunity to grow the community and introduce this culture to open minds is what builds a thriving scene. I've seen this happen with Vancouver's street dance community (those who learn street dance styles such as breaking, hip hop, popping, locking, waacking, house, etc.) as a result of the annual Vancouver Street Dance Festival (which takes place on the first weekend of August, just before VMF). The community has grown because this festival has become the meeting ground with those who have never experienced street dance before.
How did people react to it? Anything surprise you?
There were so many people! That surprised me. As an event producer, that's always something that passes through my mind, but I never pay too much attention to — who's going to actually come? It surprised me to see so much of Vancouver in that parking lot and surrounding the sides overlooking our activation. They particularly loved the battles. I could see it in so many people's eyes that they'd never really seen anything like that before, other than over dramatized versions that exist in Hollywood films. It also surprised me how fearless some people were to just jump into the workshops and learn — breakdancing, emceeing, how to DJ; old, young — didn't matter. It was a multi-generational audience who were very open to engaging.
What's your experience collaborating with VMF so far?
Connecting with VMF helped me create those bigger connections with the city, and has given me the opportunity to shape shift these public spaces. I am a connector — I've got my eyes and ears to the ground and to other parts of the world — I am always asking what people need and what are they looking for, in order to bring those worlds together. So many connections from the hip hop, music, arts and culture community of Vancouver have taken place as a result of VMF, and there's a true sense of mobilization and activation happening.
I think one of the best things VMF has done is sparked a dialogue. It's ruffled some feathers. It's opened up doors to the city and created conversations around art, beautifying the city, street closures and public parties, gentrification, real estate, housing accessibility, so on and so forth. These are all very real conversations that we should continue to have, but should also actively do something about it. I think the VMF doesn't have all the answers nor is perfect — the festival is only going into its third year; however, they have brought together a diverse group of artists and given us all a platform to share what we do from the underground and connect to the general public. They've also built relationships with people in the city: policy-makers, urban planners, etc. There is now a voice representative of our creative community, and as a result is creating a bridge, accessibility... to understanding that world more and making opportunities for us all to work together.
Vancouver for the longest time had this reputation for being flakey, too chill, people who complain about things never happening here but not really doing anything about it. There's a new wave of energy happening here right now that I'm really excited to be part of. The city is starting to take itself more seriously, seeing the rich urban city life, art, music, and culture we have and putting it on the forefront. We've never had so much diverse programming, so many street closures and outdoor festivals happen before and they're finally happening.
What would you like to see more of?
I think VMF can create more events like their open house night at the HQ — a safe space for the entire community to come together and have a platform to ask difficult questions and engage in dialogue is super important. Town hall meetings. Teaching the general public how these infrastructures are in place, and being completely transparent about what we can do on a civic level. It will get people more involved in policy-making, voting, and understanding infrastructures so we can be more proactive instead of being mad that things happened a certain way, or that certain things aren't happening. Knowledge is key in empowering individuals to make a difference.