The broad community roots of the Orwell Hotel’s “Through the Eyes of the Raven”

Richard Tetrault high above Hastings St. at work on the Orwell Hotel mural.

My post last week about the new mural emerging on the wall of the Orwell Hotel at 456 East Hastings St. was improvised from materials at hand, included some errors, and failed to indicate the broad community roots of this project.

David Eddy, of the Vancouver Native Housing Society, sent me this update today:

The mural was commissioned by Vancouver Native Housing Society (VNHS) at the Orwell Hotel, a renovated SRO which we manage and operate for BC Housing.

The mural is an urban Aboriginal initiative whose major sponsors to date have been BC Housing, and the City of Vancouver’s Great Beginnings program. We have also received significant donations from the Royal Bank, the Strathcona BIA, Britannia Community Services, and General Paint. There was no federal stimulus grant received for the mural. It is all BC money.

We have been very fortunate to have commissioned Richard Tetrault, Vancouver’s pre-eminent muralist, as the project’s artistic coordinator and we engaged members of the DTES community in the design process. The artists involved in the design and application, Jerry Whitehead, Richard Shorty, Haisla Collins, Sharifa Marsden, Don Howell, and Nicola Campbell are all Aboriginal.

The concept is based on VNHS’ plan of developing social enterprise through our social and supportive housing portfolio: to create employment for urban aboriginals and ultimately provide income to VNHS to invest in sustaining and increasing affordable housing.

Another vehicle we will use to achieve this goal is to create a “Fair Trade Art Gallery” in a building we currently have under development at 31 West Pender Street. A project that we entered into with Heritage Canada last year named “Looking Forward/Looking Back” was the entity we used to kick-start this process. Looking Forward/Looking Back was an initiative that looked at life in the DTES through the eyes of Aboriginal artists.

Another purpose of the Orwell mural project, which we call “Through the Eyes of the Raven”, is to highlight, in a very positive way, the downtown eastside community and the people who live and work there, many of whom are tenants of VNHS. The mural, although not completed, has already created a buzz and we see it when completed as a focal point, particularly for urban Aboriginal folks.

We see it heralding the renaissance of aboriginal culture and pride in an area that was the traditional and is the current home of many native people.

At nearly 8,000 square feet we believe it will be the largest piece of public art in Vancouver and one that will be viewed by locals and visitors alike with awe and appreciation.