The City of Merritt, in collaboration with with local Indigenous artist Cliff McDougall, has unveiled a new sports mural at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena (NVMA).

Five photos printed on vinyl, mounted on aluminum composite, and laminated for durability are on display at the NVMA, celebrating local artists and athletes alike.

A small ceremony was held at the site of the mural, adjacent to the entrance of the NVMA, which is home to the Merritt Centennials BCHL junior hockey team. Community members gathered to admire the new artwork, with City officials and the artists saying a few words to mark the occasion.

“It’s awesome. I didn’t think they’d turn out this good, but they’re gorgeous,” said McDougall, who was all smiles as his artwork was put on display for the community.

The 65 year old artist has practiced photography for over 50 years, first picking up the hobby in his early teens. Initially shooting on film, his embrace of digital photography was slow upon its conception.

“When the digital camera first came out, I thought I would wait for a while to buy one. Once I did, I realized it was pretty cool what you could do on the computer with the digital stuff.”

McDougall’s affinity for digital photography only grew with time, and can be clearly seen in the vivid colours and compelling filters uses in his artwork, which can be viewed not only at the NVMA, but also in the Nicola Valley Arts Gallery and local art gift-store Beyond the Willow.

“After that, I bought a better camera, kept upgrading, and these are just some of the results right here,” added McDougall, pointing proudly to his new installation at the arena.

While his passion for digital photography and its endless possibilities and applications are clear, McDougall says his inspiration stems from an appreciation of the high-octane.

“When I get a shot like my rodeo ones, I’m just looking through my camera and thinking ‘wow, that’s awesome.’ It’s about capturing that peak action.”

Moving forward, McDougall will continue to create his photographs, and seek mural projects similar to this one, adding he is grateful for the
opportunity presented by the City and the support of his family.

The photo depicting a hockey match that is a part of the mural includes Darius Sam, a local athlete who recently raised over $100,000 for various community initiatives, and McDougall’s nephew.

Mayor Linda Brown was also in attendance at the ceremony, and says she is thrilled with the mural itself and the message behind it.

“I’m absolutely thrilled with how it turned out. The fact that it is Indigenous I hope will help to heal the distance between Indigenous communities and the City of Merritt,” said Brown.

“When I first was elected to council, I wanted something different from country music. The country murals are beautiful and I loved them dearly, but it was time to broaden the scope. This is the first of that.”

The mayor added she hopes to see future projects supporting both reconciliation and the arts, pending the availability of provincial grants and other funding opportunities..

A recent press release by the City of Merritt says the mural project was a unique undertaking, as it was open to all visual artists who worked in any medium and did not require the artist to paint the wall of the NVMA.

McDougall was chosen after submitting a response to the City’s request for expressions of interest from local visual artists last spring, eventually resulting in his five photos being displayed, honouring the Indigenous and sports history in the valley.