Due to an ongoing ownership dispute involving Merritt’s country music murals, the city will paint the next piece on their own walls, with a new theme to boot.

Council unanimously agreed to scrap plans to paint a new country music artist mural on Quilchena Avenue at a regular meeting on May 28. Instead, the city will spend the $10,000 grant on a sports and recreation-themed mural featuring local athletes on Nicola Valley Memorial Arena building.

“Since it is using money that came to the city I would like it addressed to a city property so there aren’t any issues with ownership later on,” said Coun. Kurt Christopherson, to which other councillors agreed.

“I am also concerned with this whole artists’ rights business,” said Coun. Mike Bhangu. “When an artist is paid for their work, they no longer own the rights. So there seems to be a lot of misunderstandings with the murals that are already out here and I don’t know if we should commit to something that hasn’t truly been resolved.”

However, the contract signed by artist Michelle Loughery and the Walk of Stars Society states Loughery has “complete copyright over the murals,” something Loughery said is important to understand she still holds.

“Copyright is the new lumber,” said Loughery, stressing she commissioned herself for the project. “Copyright could work in favour for Merritt if they understand I protect them by having that copyright and we enter into an agreement that the city promotes [the murals] with integrity.”

In response to Coun. Bhangu’s comment, Loughery said it represents a good learning opportunity for people to learn about artists’ rights.

“I understand you might not have the knowledge, and the project was very innovative in that the artist came in and donated their art to leverage the project,” she said “So maybe look at the good it has done and look through the files and see the story and empower and educate yourself on this new economy.”

However, council was keen to move in a different direction at Tuesday’s meeting.

Mayor Linda Brown said she would like to invest in a sports-themed mural to highlight a different pillar of the community.

“I think some of the time you look at the country music murals and as beautiful as they are — and I think they really enhance the city — I think we need to look at something of our own. It doesn’t have to be just country music,” Brown said. “I’d love to see faces of our own kids on the wall, kids that have been living in Merritt, grew up in Merritt.”

Other councillors supported Brown’s suggestion.

“I think it is time to recognize the people in this community and why wade into a swamp if we don’t have to right now,” said Coun. Tony Luck, noting the city should continue to engage in conflict resolution with the Canadian Country Music Heritage Society and mural artist Michelle Loughery.

There will be opportunities for more murals in the future once tensions are resolved, said Brown.

“This is not the be-all, end-all of all grants or funding going towards murals for sure,” she said.

Loughery said she would like to continue working with the city moving forward despite her rights being threatened by groups in the community.

“I do believe that the city is trying to get everyone together, I really do, I think Will [George, manager of economic development and tourism with the City of Merritt] has been trying. But at this point we should finish [the country music mural at the food bank]. And that’s what Will, with a grant, tried to do. He engaged with me, we tried to clean it up,” Loughery said, adding she is not sure of her involvement in the new sports mural. “Now this issue is causing harm so you are going to put a sports mural and you are going to change the theme of something that is one of the biggest draws, and something any other community would die for, and break contract with me?”