When driving through town, most newcomers can’t help but notice the nearly 30 painted walls in downtown Vernon. Scribbled on the far right corner of these tattooed walls still reads one name: Michelle Loughery.
The story of these murals began two decades ago when Loughery, a muralist, and then-Downtown Vernon Association’s Chris Rowland came together to renew and revitalize the downtown core. The project brought together local non-profits and government agencies with the purpose of combining art with Loughery’s Youth Life and Employability Skills Program. Though Loughery said that she hadn’t imagined how much impact it would have in Vernon, all involved seemingly agree that the art achieved it’s purpose: it brought Vernon together and created a sense of community for those who had not had one previously.
Though many assisted the project and allowed it to gain momentum, Loughery was the creative force that fuelled the project. Now, 20 years later, she is still deemed a pioneer by those who aided the project, by the artists and at-risk youth who took part, and by those who followed in her footsteps to pursue mural-based art in other communities.
The project was also considered a success based on tourism and economic impact. Walking mural tours still exist today, providing locals and visitors the opportunity to learn about the history of Vernon through the art.
“The murals were about renewing the Vernon downtown,” said Loughery, reminiscing about various stories from her days on the wall and boasting about her students — many whom have since leveraged the skills they learned through the project into successful careers.
The mural project, later dubbed Wayfinder has helped communities raise and save millions of dollars while helping to reduce youth poverty and providing local youth with the skills needed to achieve their dreams.
Soon, what began in Vernon picked up momentum and started a movement. Mural cities began popping up all over North America.
But, Loughery wasn’t done. She has now created a new way to share these stories for the next generation. Aptly titled: Generation II, Loughery and her creative partners have spent the past five years developing a new way to share stories from the wall through an app.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s on a flat wall or in nature, it’s a story and it’s just the new medium,” she said. “The new medium is digital and the app is just the brush.”
She explained that, in the same way the initial project connected to the youth, the app is a new way to engage with youths, provide digital training and engage rural communities.
“Young people have the digital skills and we have the stories. We have the old, wise knowledge and they’ve got the new knowledge. We just want to bring them together.”
The app is called AR:T Finder.
“We’re using an augmented reality lens and an app to help people find art, but it’s also new art that never existed before so that’s pretty exciting.”
The app, which is set to launch later this year, has already begun turning heads. Loughery’s AR:T Route Blue Project has formed a alliance group with Explore Gold Country, Kamloops Tourism and Vernon Tourism.
The new project will start from Gold Country Region with the Gold Country Communities Society. It has also received a grant from Destination B.C. Loughery also noted that the team is also currently in grant proposal stages with other artists and organizations. Podcasting and geo-art tours are also part of the plan.
“The government of Canada has funded my projects in some form all those years. This is a true National Project with many communities and artists coming together again with new digital and many other art forms,” said Loughery, noting that mural art has become a global industry and a huge tourism and economic driver.
“This new movement, an app, will bring the strength of some of those same Vernon visionaries together again into a new digital form.”
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