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The price tag for the Vancouver Biennial’s huge mural on Granville Island has climbed far beyond original estimates. (DARRYL DYCK/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
The price tag for the Vancouver Biennial’s huge mural on Granville Island has climbed far beyond original estimates. (DARRYL DYCK/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Giant mural over Granville Island comes with outsized funding problem Add to ...

At the same time a spectacular visual art crowd-pleaser rises over Vancouver’s Granville Island, the organization funding the enormous mural project is seeking to pay for it through a crowdfunding campaign. The high-profile project by the Brazilian duo Osgemeos comes at a high cost: The Vancouver Biennale says expenses for the project are tens of thousands of dollars higher than what the organization initially budgeted.

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The Biennale brings works of public art to the Vancouver area (now extending as far as Squamish) for a period of about two years, attracting important international artists, including Ai Weiwei this year. Also for the 2014-2016 exhibition, organizers invited celebrated Brazilian street artists Osgemeos (identical twins Gustavo and Otavio Pandolfo) to participate. They are well known for their vibrant, whimsical, graffiti-inspired work – such as turning an airplane into a colourful wrap-around flying mural for Brazil’s World Cup.

A scouting visit to Vancouver led the duo to six enormous silos at the Ocean Concrete plant on Granville Island, where they are now executing their largest mural to date – a 360-degree, more than 21-metre-high, six-sectioned project.

The artists are volunteering their time, and Ocean Concrete offered up its silos at no charge. But with the ambition of the project, the price tag has ballooned from an expected $50,000 for hard costs to $125,000 when the crowd-funding campaign launched, and now sits at about $170,000.

“I think both for the boys and for us the size of those silos is bigger than they really imagined. Yes, they did all their calculations, but this is 23,500 square feet,” says Barrie Mowatt, Biennale founder and president. “Lots of surprises,” he adds.

Contributing to the unexpected budget hike: the theft two weeks ago of $20,000 worth of specially made spray paint. Also a decision to apply protective shellacking on the work at a cost of $25,000.

Contributing to the unexpected budget hike: the theft two weeks ago of $20,000 worth of specially made spray paint. Also a decision to apply protective shellacking on the work at a cost of $25,000.

“So your $50,000 budget just went to hell,” Mr. Mowatt says. He adds that the budgets for the other major projects for this Biennale have been maintained. “So this becomes an anomaly.”

Rather than launch a crowdfunding campaign before executing the project, the Biennale felt it might be more successful if it tried to raise funds at the same time the paint was being applied – so that there would be visuals available to excite potential donors. Was that risky?

“We’re naive in terms of crowdsourcing,” says Mr. Mowatt, who says the point of the campaign was not simply financial, but also to involve the public in this public art endeavour. “Our sense was how do you tell the story when you don’t have the images?” Showing the grey concrete silos, they figured, would not be as exciting for potential donors as being able to watch them transform into spectacular animated giants.

In a conservative move, the campaign set a goal of only $20,000. (If you achieve your goal on Indiegogo, you pay a lower commission to the crowdfunding site than if you fall short.) As of Monday afternoon, the Biennale had raised more than $41,000 – more than double the ask. But it is urging donors to “keep the momentum going all the way to $125,000.”

Up until mid-last week, the vast majority of the donations had come from outside Vancouver – primarily from international funders, according to Mr. Mowatt.

The Biennale’s overall budget is about $4.2-million, most of that raised from sales of the large-scale artworks, Mr. Mowatt says. The organization also relies on some government funding (the largest chunk comes from the provincial government, with a $250,000 gaming grant); private and corporate philanthropy; and fundraising activities, such as a recent event with filmmaker Oliver Stone.

Beyond their expenses, the artists are not paid for their time (but can earn money if they sell their work). Mr. Mowatt, 69, does not draw a salary but his expenses such as Biennale-related travel are paid by the organization. Money earned by the Biennale for the sale of the work goes back into the endeavour, he says.

Because of unexpected costs and expected funding that did not come through for this Biennale, the organization has already cancelled 10 artists’ residencies during the latter half of September and the month of October, and it will close the Brazilian pavilion it has opened in North Vancouver six weeks early, on Oct. 13.

When I ask what happens if the Biennale does not raise the money for the silo project, which is to be completed Sept. 6, Mr. Mowatt at first refuses to entertain the possibility. “I mean, we’re a rich city. We’re a very wealthy city. There are lots of people in this city who could write cheques – not [just] for this but to fund the whole Biennale.”

He admits to a feeling of urgency as he frequently checks the status of the Indiegogo campaign. “I hate that; you feel out of control. So you really go back to a point of trusting in the universe.”

Even if it doesn’t raise the $125,000 the Biennale is “not at risk at all,” Mr. Mowatt says. “We’re not going to be bankrupt, but it’s going to make our lives a bit more miserable.”

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