Vancouver enthralls with its dramatic outdoor setting, perched between the mountains and the sea. But, if for some reason the stunning natural canvas isn’t enough for you, the city offers plenty of pleasures for traditional art lovers, too.
From contemporary museums to indigenous galleries to a growing street art scene, here’s our guide to Vancouver’s creative side.
Any art-focused trip to the city should start with its main museum. Housed in a 1906 courthouse with exhibit space arranged around a stately central rotunda, the Vancouver Art Gallery showcases western Canada’s artistic endeavors from earlier eras up to today.
The gallery is particularly known for its collection of more than 150 works by British Columbian artist Emily Carr. Due to her solo explorations of the province’s indigenous communities, Carr is considered one of Canada’s most important early 20th-century painters.
The museum regularly hosts major traveling exhibits as well. This year’s calendar includes “Vikky Alexander: Extreme Beauty,” a retrospective of works by the contemporary Canadian artist (through January 2020), and “Cindy Sherman,” featuring the American photographer’s images and other artworks from the 1970s to today (opening in late October).
If you’re curious about indigenous art, this unique museum — Canada’s only public gallery dedicated to contemporary indigenous art of the Northwest Coast — carries an extensive collection of works by its namesake and other regional First Nations artists.
Born to an American father and Haida First Nations mother, Reid produced more than 1,500 Haida-inspired carvings, sculptures and pieces of jewelry throughout his life. Museum highlights include Mythic Messengers, Reid’s 28-foot bronze frieze depicting four scenes from Haida mythology, and a full-size totem pole by James Hart, a carver and chief of the Haida nation.
Tip: Several high-end commercial galleries in Vancouver also specialize in indigenous art from across western Canada and the Pacific Northwest. Two of the most impressive houses are the Douglas Reynolds Gallery in the South Granville neighborhood and Coastal Peoples Fine Arts Gallery in Gastown.
One of Vancouver’s most distinctive art spaces is this privately run museum in Chinatown’s oldest building.
Local real estate entrepreneur Bob Rennie assembled one of Canada’s largest private collections of contemporary art, spotlighting everyone from American painter Kerry James Marshall to Italy’s Lara Favaretto. With the sleekly renovated 1889 Wing Sang Building as a backdrop, you can view changing exhibits of these works.
Since it is a private collection, you must make a reservation to visit the museum, which is open by complimentary guided tour only. Check its website for available tour times, and book your visit in advance.
Note: The gallery is closed to prepare for its next exhibition, debuting in February 2020.
Cross the Burrard Inlet from downtown Vancouver to find the area’s newest art hot spot. Situated on the waterfront in North Vancouver, this striking building houses a rotating array of contemporary exhibitions by Canadian artists, particularly photographers.
Seek out “Christian Marclay: The Clock” (on view through September 15). The U.S.-born, London-based artist assembled this audiovisual montage from film and television clips shot over the last 70 years. Each sequence is synchronized to a 24-hour clock, so that it unfolds as if it’s happening over a 24-hour period. If you’re feeling up to the challenge, reserve a seat at one of the 24-hour screenings — the last two fall on September 6 and 13.
While this popular on-the-water destination may be best known for its deliciously enticing food market, it is also a great spot to peruse numerous artist studios and craft galleries.
Among the highlights are the Eagle Spirit Gallery, which displays high-end indigenous art; Vancouver Studio Glass, where you can observe artisans creating vibrant glass pieces; and CCBC (Craft Council of British Columbia) Shop & Gallery, which showcases jewelry, ceramics, textiles and more by British Columbia-based creatives. Many more galleries are concentrated in and around the island’s Railspur Alley, including textile boutique Alarte Silks and active workshop Studio 13 Fine Art.
Main Street’s Murals
Radiating out from Main Street at East Broadway, the Mount Pleasant neighborhood has become the hub of Vancouver’s street art scene, with colorful murals by both local and international artists splashed across the district’s buildings and back alleys.
The best time to explore these works is during the Vancouver Mural Festival, an annual August street art celebration with guided tours, free concerts and a lively block party.
Even if you’re not in town for the mural fest, there’s plenty to see — most of the art remains year-round. You’ll find the greatest concentration of it in two of the neighborhood’s alleyways, Main Alley and 7½ Lane, both just west of Main Street. The festival website has a map showing many of the works, which makes it easy to come and wander at your own pace.
An airport as an art lover’s destination?
Yes, indeed. Start or end your travels by taking in the installations at Vancouver International Airport. The airport has one of the world’s largest collections of indigenous art from the Pacific Northwest, with pieces on display throughout both the domestic and international terminals.