Marie-Anna Michaud didn’t start rinsing paint off a vandalized mural because she was disturbed by the obscenities scrawled there. She didn’t do it to right a wrong, and she didn’t do it out of anger for the perpetrators.
No one asked or paid her to do it. Her act of kindness came as a surprise to muralist Michelle Loughery, whose 15-year-old train mural was targeted by vandals with a can of yellow paint and some obvious anger issues earlier this week, the words they left too vulgar to print here. The mural, one of Loughery’s many heritage scenes painted on buildings across Vernon, was created by a team of 17 youths and had never before been touched by vandals.
In a text message as we were arranging a place to meet for the interview, Michaud said, “I’m not sure if my story would be of interest since my answer usually turns out being different from what people expect.”
She kept her promise. When we met, she took her time with the questions, often squeezing her eyes shut in concentration like a weight lifter in the midst of a bench press. She paused for what seemed like minutes, searching within for the why of it all.
I got the sense she didn’t quite know herself what compelled her to trudge downtown with buckets and rags. It was more a feeling, she said, that brought her there.
A young artist herself, the 19-year-old spoke of how powerful Vernon’s heritage murals are. Having lived across the country and recently returned to Vernon, she saw how they brought people together. She might not have known exactly who the historical figure painted on the 29 Street train mural was, but she knew how the murals made people feel; connected and proud. It’s that sense of community she wanted to preserve.
As she spoke about that beautiful connectivity, and how happy it made her, her reasons for wanting to erase the splattered paint became clear. She did it in the spirit of community. She did it because she didn’t want to see that relationship tarnished.
As an artist, I expected her to be disdainful of the vandals’ work, but she wasn’t.
“To me, it is what it is,” she said. “What I see when I block out the words is the intention; the desire to be seen.”
Everyone wants to be free and to have a voice, she said. In a society governed by what you can and can’t do, breaking rules is how people vent. Some may see the vandals’ harsh words as something negative, but Michaud sees it differently.
“If not for this, we wouldn’t know what is going on,” she said. “Everybody has a voice, why resist and ignore it?”
She believes we need to answer those words and those voices and give them a chance to speak in a way that’s positive for the community. Instead of washing those voices away with the paint, she believes there’s a way to welcome them into that same network of connectivity created by the murals.
The beauty of muralist Michelle Loughery’s community art projects is they allow people to express themselves in a way that follows society’s rules, Michaud said. With more programs and opportunities like that, she believes incredible things could happen.
“The people who (did) this have to realize if they have the power to do that, they have the power to do it again a different way," she said. “They have to realize they have the freedom to bring those ideas forward in a way they can actually do them.”
To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email email@example.com or call 250-718-2724.