Vancouver Mural Festival hosting memorial for local graffiti artist Holden Courage

·3 min read
A mural dedicated to late graffiti artist Holden Courage, covering a 20-metre concrete wall in a parking lot in East Vancouver, is shown in 2018. The background of the mural is covered in reproductions of Holden’s own graffiti recreated by some of his closest friends. (taramcguire.com - image credit)
A mural dedicated to late graffiti artist Holden Courage, covering a 20-metre concrete wall in a parking lot in East Vancouver, is shown in 2018. The background of the mural is covered in reproductions of Holden’s own graffiti recreated by some of his closest friends. (taramcguire.com - image credit)

The Vancouver Mural Festival is hosting a special event this weekend to memorialize a local artist and to raise funds for up and coming graffiti talent.

The Holden Courage Graffiti Jam takes place Saturday at 2015 Main St. It is held annually to commemorate Courage — a well-known artist in the local graffiti community who died of toxic drugs six years ago.

In prior years, the jam has taken place in a packed parking lot, but due to COVID-19 it is ticketed this year and separated into two events, one starting at 10:30 a.m. and the other at 12:30 p.m., to reduce crowding.

Tickets include a food truck meal, live painting demonstrations by five artists, music and an art raffle. Proceeds will support young artists through the Holden Courage Memorial Fund for Artists created by his family.

Submitted by Tara McGuire
Submitted by Tara McGuire

"I'm delighted so many artists are are taking part in this and I can't think of a better way to remember Holden," said his mom, Tara McGuire, speaking Friday on CBC's The Early Edition.

"Graffiti was a big part of his life and there wasn't really a lot of support for graffiti, so we thought we would support graffiti artists in his name."

Bella Bella-born and East Vancouver-raised Heiltsuk artist K.c. Hall is one of the artists donating work to the art raffle.

Hall said after speaking to McGuire about how much she appreciated the artwork her son created during his lifetime, it was easy for him to commit a piece to her cause.

"That really brought me back to thinking about how my mother herself was super supportive of me doing art," said Hall. "It sounded like something cool and I really wanted to be a part of it."

McGuire said while she knows graffiti is illegal, her goal with the Holden Memorial Fund for Artists is to create sanctioned spaces where graffiti artists can come and work with supplied materials.

"They can work without the fear of being arrested and have a voice," she said. "A place where they can feel as if they can express themselves, as if they have something to say, as if they're good at something."

McGuire said she was unpacking groceries and library books at home six years ago when a police officer knocked on the door and she learned her 21-year-old son was dead. A toxicology report would later show Courage's death was caused by a mixture of heroin and alcohol.

"He was a wonderful friend, very loyal, so funny and intelligent and just so many people miss him," said McGuire. Courage died before the province declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency in April 2016.

The 851 British Columbians who died of toxic drugs between January and May of this year have made it the deadliest first five months of a calendar year since 2016.

McGuire says seeing the amount of money spent by policymakers to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic riled her anger about how the opioid crisis is being handled in B.C. She would like to see more funding allocated for substance use treatment beds.

"People are dying. They are friends and loved ones and family members and, in most cases, productive members of society," she said. "It doesn't need to happen."

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