Salem councilor pushes for street art program to brighten neighborhood asphalt

On Monday evening, the Salem City Council will vote on a program of murals on city streets. The program could help brighten up neighborhood streets if approved.

Graffiti artist Eric Tautkus paints a mural Saturday, June 19 at the Salem Fairgrounds (Courtesy/Salem Health)

Salem residents may soon see colorful murals lighting up the asphalt of their residential streets.

The Grant neighborhood at the north end of downtown Salem hopes to create colorful geometric street painting at the intersection of Northeast Belmont and Cottage streets.

Susan Napack, president of communications for the Grant Neighborhood Association, said one of the neighbors, Laura Herrmann, came to the association in November with the idea.

The association voted in favor of a street mural program and sent a letter to the city.

On Monday, the Salem City Council will vote on establishing a mural program on city streets. Councilor Virginia Stapleton presents the motion.

Stapleton said the mural projects would be “community-led, community-installed, and community-maintained.”

She said she had been working on the concept for several months and there were already neighborhoods lined up to create a mural. The program would allow neighborhood associations to apply to create art on their streets.

In her motion, Stapleton wrote that for the past year she has been trying to uplift neighborhoods and bring a sense of community.

“Beauty is not just for museums, parks or public buildings, it also belongs in the heart of our neighborhoods for all to enjoy”, his motion said.

Napack said the neighborhood is awaiting city approval before moving forward with designs.

She hopes they will have direction in the spring and time to paint in the summer.

“Being an artist and being drawn to anything that shows some kind of creativity in the environment in particular is just a way of bringing people together,” she said. “When I see any type of public art, it kind of shuts me down.”

Chris D’Arcy, chairman of the Salem Public Art Commission, said the commission wants to see more murals in the city.

But she said she doesn’t think the process is widely understood, requiring an artist to submit a proposal, pay a fee, have a public hearing and have the building owner grant an easement to the city. It also requires the building owner to maintain the mural for at least seven years without modifications.

These rules were recently the subject of controversy when a Salem company had a mural painted without city or art commission approval.

Changes being considered by council to allow street murals would not change rules for businesses and other wall displays, but D’Arcy said the commission is in discussions with the city on how to make the process of less restrictive wall paint.

“I would love to see a way to provide seed funding that would inspire a building owner or an artist to do something,” she said.

She said that’s what makes street murals appealing. They do not require easements and the streets are periodically swept by the city.

The street murals are maintained by community members living nearby.

D’Arcy’s daughter lives in Portland and she saw several street murals when she visited. Portland has a permit process for street paintings.

City code currently prevents people from putting up street murals within city limits, she said.

“I’m thrilled there’s a neighborhood in Salem that’s going to put something on the table for the council to think about,” D’Arcy said.

Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected]

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Kayleen C. Rice