One look to André Bathalon’s career history is enough to realize the man is an entrepreneurial junkie. Fresh out of art school, young André quickly jump-started his career by co-starting an animation studio. Less than five years later, he flaunted his nerdy side to the world, studied E-commerce at HEC and created an online store where he got busy reselling valuable action figures. His experience thought him well and before long, he followed up with Karmatoys, yet another online store.
However, it’s while slowly coming of age with his creative wisdom towards urban arts that pieces really started falling into place. André decided to co-found Safewalls, a project curated for Cirque du Soleil in which he, and partner Yan Cordeau, paired circus posters with international street artists. Inspired by their own achievements, André and Yan founded LNDMRK (read Landmark), an artistic production agency, with partners Alexis Froissart and Nicolas Munn Rico, two creative minds 10 years their juniors. Through this agency, the Mural Festival was conceptualized and created in an effort to make art accessible. Over the course of only three years, the festival grew exponentially from a single weekend event to a full blown 11-day celebration that saw 50 murals take shape in the community and was the host to more than a million visitors in 2015.
How is it growing up with such a drive for entrepreneurship?
‘‘It’s funny because I only realized that I was very focused on doing my own thing around the time of Safewalls! And looking back, my father is also an artist and an entrepreneur so I guess it was in my genes! The thing with entrepreneurship is that you automatically think of the end result, not necessarily of the path to that destination. For Mural for example, had I known the amount of work it implied, I’m not sure I would’ve started that whole thing, but those parameters don’t affect your drive; all that matters is the actual goal.’’
After 3 years of existence, Mural Festival is now making huge waves in the North-American urban art scene. How did it all come to be?
‘‘Well it started with an idea, just like any other project. Then, we started researching for a good area to host the concept, mostly around Rosemont and the Mile-End. One day, during the summer of 2012, we were walking on St-Laurent and we really saw the canvas and the possibilities. We proposed the idea to the society managing the development of the boulevard, and they were really interested. The general manager, Glenn Castanheira, used to own a restaurant and had a mural done on one side of his building. He had witnessed first handedly the positive impact of art integration on passersby and on the community: ‘If one tiny wall can have such a big impact, how great would it be if there were 20 big walls?’ We received approval of the project in early February 2013.’’
So technically you only had four months to go before the actual event! How did your team manage to make it happen?
‘‘Well, we wondered: ‘How could we get eight months’ worth of work in half that time? By working twice as hard!’ We were very naïve, but I think that’s what pushes people to go into business ventures or create projects. Everybody can have an idea, but making it happen, that’s the part that scares people. It’s where you go: ‘Hey, wait a second; we’re doing this!’ That’s when we decided to commit, to go all in and make as much noise as possible, both locally and internationally, to make sure people would ask for a second edition!’’
The growth between the first and third edition is phenomenal! Knowing that the popularity and accessibly of street art in Canada was nowhere near what it was in other countries, were you surprised by the response? Do you think it’s because people were ready for this type of festival?
‘‘People love art so I didn’t expect them to throw tomatoes and reject the project, but I was stunned to see people come to us and thank us for what was happening to their neighborhoods. It felt like an out-of-body experience: what began in my living room wasn’t just my project anymore, it was everyone’s project. You know, art has power. If you’re wise enough, there’s always a relevant way to make something approachable.’’
The future only seems to look brighter for the Mural Festival. What can we expect in 2016?
‘‘Well, first of all, we decided to hire a general manager so that we could distance ourselves from the operations. We wanted to have someone in charge of keeping the original vision alive, allowing us to concentrate on elevating the next edition to a higher standard. The Mural concept is planned to travel to other Canadian cities, and we’re working with different international partners to export Mural’s full DNA in other countries. There’s also the fact that 2017 will be a big year for Montreal – the city will be celebrating its 375th anniversary – and we’re really working towards something special for that edition.’’
I’ve heard people call you a big-time hustler, namely Maxime Charron, a slick producer and your long-time friend. Would you agree?
‘‘Ha Ha! I can hear him say that! It’s kind of true I guess. It’s easy to hustle when you believe in something and when you’re not being fake. It’s about continuously having new goals and objectives; that’s the art of the chase.’’