Olympic Design: Vancouver’s Protest Art

SI.com has enlisted the help of the bloggers behind Canadian Design Resource to author a series of posts on the design spirit of their country’s three Olympic Games: Montreal 1976, Calgary 1988, and Vancouver 2010. Today, CDR’s Michael Erdmann and Todd Falkowsky take a look at protest art for the Vancouver Games:

Protestors in Vancouver have pointed to a laundry list of complaints, from the environmental footprint of the event, to the commodification of indigenous culture, to infringements on personal expression and privacy. In light of Vancouver’s homelessness problem, and unprecedented funding cuts to the arts and education, critics question the logic and benefit of massive Olympic spending — especially when the profitability of the Games is up for debate.

While the frustration of protestors is evident, many see the Olympics as an opportunity to expose their message to a global audience. Tapping into DIY design, activists craft guerilla posters, graffiti campaigns, public demonstrations and educational projects that demand to be heard. This is not typically the realm of “good design,” but these messages relay an urgency and sincerity that corporate design cannot match. The following images are a sampling of protest art found on the streets of Vancouver:

Olympic Ring Parody
Jesse Corcoran, The Crying Room, 2009

This piece was recently reinstalled outside the Crying Room gallery after the city wrongly assumed that it was graffiti:

Plywood Rings

(The Blackbird - flickr.com/photos/blackbird_hollow)

Convergence February 2010 Poster
Gord Hill, no2010, 2010



Dead IOC Prez
Gord Hill, no2010, 2008

Dead Prez


Give 2010 The Finger
Poverty Olympics

The Finger


 End Poverty Banner
Poverty Olympics, 2008

This banner was used in the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Poverty Olympics. Following the event it was added to this Olympic billboard outside of Canada Place:

End Poverty Banner

(The Blackbird - flickr.com/photos/blackbird_hollow)

With Glowing Hearts We Kill The Arts

During a campaign to “clean up” Vancouver in advance of the Olympics, the city painted over a series of murals commissioned by the Steve Nash Foundation in 2007. In response, this graffiti appeared a few days later, only to be painted over again:

Wet Paint

(The Blackbird - flickr.com/photos/blackbird_hollow)

Stop The Greenwash Flyer
Gord Hill, no2010, 2009


(The Blackbird - flickr.com/photos/blackbird_hollow)

Trickle Down
Sonny Assu, 2009

This bus shelter poster by Sonny Assu is actually part of the Cultural Olympiad, an Olympic-sanctioned art festival. By sticking to indirect critique, Assu’s work made it past VANOC’s propaganda clause, which asks artists to “refrain from making any negative or derogatory remarks respecting VANOC, the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Olympic movement generally, Bell and/or other sponsors associated with VANOC.”

Transit Poster

(The Blackbird - flickr.com/photos/blackbird_hollow)

Blood On Your Hands
2010 Corporate Campaign, 2009

Part of a series aimed directly at Olympic sponsors, this info flyer takes aim at HBC’s colonial roots (which are also Canada’s colonial roots, despite what our Prime Minister seems to believe), but unfortunately ignores anything from the last 100 years:

HBC Blood

(2010 Corporate Campaign - 2010campaign.wordpress.com/)

Petro-Canada Is Making A Killing
2010 Corporate Campaign, 2009


(2010 Corporate Campaign - 2010campaign.wordpress.com/)

Red Tent Campaign
Pivot Legal Society, 2010

Picking up on a concept pioneered in France, the Red Tent Campaign aimed to increase the visibility of Vancouver’s homeless population by distributing these red tents during the Games:


(Barry Calhoun - redtents.org/blog/)

Save Winter Campaign
Dogwood Initiative, 2010

The Save Winter campaign was designed to capture some of the Olympic media spotlight. Playing perfectly off of VANOC’s much-talked-about weather woes, Dogwood created their own team of winter-sport-loving mascots, but instead of gold medals, these mascots are cheering for snow (via political action on climate change). Like Dogwood’s successful Tankers Are Loonie project, the project also includes decals that alter the face of Canada’s two dollar coin, hijacking currency to spread their message. 

team polar bear


Why did Vancouverites protest 2010 Winter Games?  Because they could. Citizens of future host cities may not be so lucky.

  • Published On Feb. 27, 2010 by lukewinn

    1. Smokey

      Considering all of the sound and fury in the run-up to the Games, there really have not been all that many protests. I think most of the professional troublemakers who flock to that sort of thing got scared off when they saw how large and how drunk the pro-Olympics crowds were.

    2. MOE

      Yeah, it has been pretty quiet since the vandalism on day one… I think that the violent approach turned off a lot of people, including would-be protesters. That combined with the futility of protesting the games after the damage is already done. The folks who tried to keep it constructive (tent city, red tent, save winter campaign, etc.) seemed to have a little more momentum.

    Add A Comment