"IT WAS AN INCREDIBLE ACT OF YOUTH EMPOWERMENT TO DISCOVER HER CLEANING THE MURAL"
VERNON - Without being asked or paid, a young artist took it upon herself to undo the damage a vandal did to one of Vernon’s heritage murals.
Marie-Anna Michaud, 19, saw a post by muralist Michelle Loughery on Facebook Monday morning. She learned someone damaged Loughery’s 15-year-old train mural on 29 Street. Not only that, it happened on Loughery’s birthday.
“I just immediately got dressed. I got a bucket and some rags. I thought like every situation, you go and see what you can do about it,” Michaud says.
She started using handfuls of snow to rub off the still-wet paint, and planned to get some friends together to help out.
“I didn’t know if someone would come or not. I just had this feeling of going and taking it off. If nobody came I would do it on my own,” Michaud says.
Eventually, help arrived and the Downtown Vernon Association brought in a graffiti removal company to pressure wash the mural clean.
After traveling and living in different cities across the country, Michaud recently moved back to Vernon. The murals have always been a touchstone for her; something that connects the community.
“I don’t know all of the stories, or what exactly they (murals) mean to people. What I do know is they bring people together. That’s a powerful thing,” she says. “I knew the affect this (damaged mural) would have on people.”
She had conflicting emotions about washing off the paint; on one hand, she felt the perpetrators should be the ones cleaning it, but on the other, she understood why they did it.
“What I see when I block out the words is the intention; the desire to be seen,” she says.
She believes youth often feel repressed, and in their search for freedom, break society’s rules; like painting on walls without permission. The irony is the vandal’s target was someone who bridges the two worlds.
“With her murals, Michelle gives people a chance to do what they love in a way that they can,” Michaud says. “The people who do this have to realize if they have the power to do that, they have the power to do it again a different way."
For Loughery, seeing Michaud’s selfless act of kindness was the best birthday gift of all.
“It was an incredible act of youth empowerment to discover her cleaning the mural without being asked or compensated,” Loughery says. “Marie made my heart sing on my birthday.”
The mural has been wiped clean, but Loughery says we can’t ignore or forget the message behind it.
(There) is a hole in our society that shows our youth are asking to be seen,” she says. “Youth that are not traditional path followers need a way into our communities.”
She invites youths who want to get involved in legitimate street art to get in touch with her through the Wayfinder project, where programs and mentorship is available to young artists. You can email Loughery at wayfinderCanada@shaw.ca.
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—This story was edited at 4:30 p.m. Dec. 10 to say the Downtown Vernon Association hired a graffiti removal company to wash off the unwanted paint.