Merritt Vernon Project History

From the archives files of Grant prepared by Susan Allen and Michelle Loughery for the Walk of Stars Society ( society folded 2015)

Preamble – Historical Overview By SUSAN ALLEN

This article is from the original project outline that was part of the collaboration and co funding of the Merritt Mural Project.

“The project we are about to embark on started because of a project that was started in Vernon. Vernon hosted a six year project completed in 2003 through the Downtown Vernon Association in Vernon, BC. This project was under the direction of the Executive Director of the DVA, Susan (Cohoe) Allen from May 1999 – March 2003. During this project the DVA partnered with the Government of Canada (YSC) and (JCP), the City of Vernon and many community businesses, stakeholders and residents. The project brought in both cash and in kind donations from the community and grants over the five years of over $3.6 million. There have not been any studies done about the economic impact of this project, but we feel strongly, based on interviews at our tourist kiosks set up in the downtown core and our mural tours with tourists that they spent extra time (which equates to money) in the community because of the murals.”

The project was designed to paint outdoor historic murals on large scale walls in the downtown core. It 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 $2 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 purpose.

Many of the youth touched by the project have gone on to lead successful lives. Those youth that are still struggling with life decisions have told us that without the project they probably would not be here today. All the youth have all said that they know they have choices now (many didn’t even know how to access resources) they are not afraid to go for assistance now (in the past many did not know where to turn). They have also all said that they recognize that they are responsible for the choices they make in their lives (instead of blaming others or following the pack) and are working to make better ones. When hired, very few of the youth have any knowledge of work ethic, time, organizational skills, or how to be a team member. All have said that not only did they learn these skills, but many more. They have stated that they know they have the skills and confidence to do whatever it is they desire.

Artist Michelle Loughery designed the youth mural project model in 1994 in Sparwood BC. The project continued to be the catalyst for the creation of 26 historical murals and the revitalization of the downtown Vernon BC rebuild that matched the heritage theme. The project won many awards and then continued to create the ROUTE 66 Mural Project and then the Merritt Walk of Stars Mural Project and many more internationally. The projects many community model is an outstanding success not only as it celebrates all the communities heritage, themes and culture but the connected collection is also a major tourism draw. A pioneer in her field Michelle’s talent is unquestionable but it was her creation of this youth employment training model of art on the street that was so significant in her community work. It mobilized citizens to work together with a sense of pride. Most importantly, Michelle involved 75 youth at risk on the project. Michelle is more than an artist, but rather a mentor to the community’s youth and a public relations ambassador for many many communities world wide. by Susan Allen

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