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Michelle Loughery: Vernon Muralist Honoured in BC

Michelle Loughery Receives Provincial Accolade in British Columbia

Michelle Loughery has rightly received Provincial Recognition in British Columbia under its 'Community Achievement Awards' Programme. Nominated in October 2004 by Susan Allen for her work on the Thompson Okanagan Historic Mural Project in Vernon BC, she went to her formal presentation with the Lieutenant Governor and Premier this month as pictured below.

Click on images to enlarge



Susan Allen's Citation Reads....

Michelle was born and raised in Sparwood, BC where she started her artistic career, first as the Arts Administrator for Sparwood. During her tenure Michelle was responsible for starting a program that saw youth assist her in painting murals in her home town.

When Michelle moved to Vernon, she approached the Downtown Vernon Association where I was Executive Director with an idea for a mural project. The Downtown Vernon Association (DVA) is a Business Improvement Area and their mandate is “to promote Downtown Vernon as a unique and dynamic destination for entertainment, goods, and services”. Michelle’s idea of painting murals in the downtown core was a perfect fit for the DVA. As the Executive Director it was my task to make it happen. With the assistance of the Government of Canada’s youth programs and the City of Vernon, along with many local donations, we started what became a five year odyssey.

Michelle has worked with more than 75 youth and painted 26 large historic murals in the downtown core. Although the youth don’t actually “paint” the murals, they are involved by painting the borders and working on projects to assist in raising funds for the project. These murals are a result of actual historic photographs donated through the local museum as well as from residents. This project raised well over $1.6 million dollars; it employed local youth at risk, and resulted in a number of major changes to Vernon’s landscape. Each mural is painted freehand (not projected) on walls that range up to 150’ x 30’. You can access the murals and more information regarding the project by clicking on

http://www.downtownvernon.org/murals/index.html

At this site you can take a mural tour, download a mural guide, and find out more information about the murals.

The project was meant to beautify the downtown core and add art and culture to the community, but the project ended up doing much more than anyone had anticipated. It became the catalyst for a $1.3 million revitalization of the downtown core by the City of Vernon and downtown businesses; it mobilized a complacent community to work together; it assisted in giving the community back a sense of pride; and it took youth with little or no direction in their lives and gave them a sense of belonging and purpose.

The reason for the success of the project is not the murals, but the artist who brought our community together. Although Michelle’s talent speaks for itself through her murals, Michelle’s production of art on the street is very much like the production of a play. We have had many tourists and residents alike stop and watch her productions on a daily basis. Michelle has stated that she feels that a wall is a way of bringing everyone down to the same level, whether they are homeless, wealthy, businessmen or women, or tourists. They all stop to talk and are all welcome and are treated the same by the crew. Even though Michelle has been under deadlines to finish, she has always taken time to speak to anyone who comes by the site, which has made her Vernon’s number one ambassador.

I feel there are many reasons why this project has been so remarkably successful:

1. The use of historic pictures brought a complete sense of belonging to the community as they were included in the process.

2. Michelle is more than an artist, rather a mentor to our youth and a public relations ambassador for the community, having the ability to bring faces to life in her art.

3. The support she coaxed from our the community – not only through donations and fundraising efforts, but also the support given to our youth.

4. The bond that was created between the youth and the seniors – many barriers came down when the seniors were asked for their help in the development of the murals and the youth worked with them. The seniors told us that they felt so much more comfortable around the youth because of our project – and the youth felt the same.

5. The mural project has become an educational tool – not only for the youth involved in the project, but the murals are now used in many of the local schools curricula in Vernon, a University of BC professor is using the murals in one of his classes and a professor at Okanagan University College is on a sabbatical to write a self guided textbook for youth to teach them about the historical significance of the murals and the history of the mural project. Hugh Rayment – a war veteran – has written a book and used the murals depicting the war scenes. He was inspired to write the book when he spent a lot of time with Michelle Loughery assisting with historic pictures for the mural war scenes.


By combining our cultural history with public art we have created a “free” weatherproof attraction that has literally attracted thousands of tourists to our community. The promotion of our art and culture, through the preservation of our heritage, under the direct sponsorship of our businesses, our artists, our community groups and local municipalities is a bridge of community development that has been shown to enhance the quality of life as well as giving the residents back a deeper sense of community pride. I feel Michelle has catalysed that and much more for the community of Vernon and is truly deserving of our BC Provincial award as recognition for her contribution to our community.

2004 Visit Report adds further details

A Field Visit Report to Vernon BC was given here at NewsNet August 31st 2004. Link here to see more detail of the excellent work by Michelle Loughery and the DVA team.

Published Date: March 17th 2005


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