Thursday, November 24, 2022

Thanks for Murals and More Art in Salem

Earlier this month on one of the decent days I got out to see the street painting at Belmont and Cottage.

Library, benches, and mural at Belmont & Cottage

No one was walking by or hanging out, no one drove by, and the lot kitty-corner from the sidewalk library and benches was still vacant. The paint seemed like it might have faded a little already. It didn't pop in the way the first photos posted on social media suggested. So the energy at the intersection was a little slack and inert. Maybe at other moments it's more vibrant, but at that moment it was not.

Still, as a kind of grace note it was great to see.

Hopefully in a broad range of expressions there is new energy for public art in Salem.

Problem of tanks specifically
and 3-D surfaces generally

At Council on Monday, Councilor Nishioka will offer a motion to adjust our mural code to accommodate some three-dimensional surfaces.

We found through the permit process of the Maraschino Cherry Mural that permanent three-dimensional objects are not allowed to be painted, only flat surfaces. The Maraschino Cherry Mural on Portland Rd NE is a mural on a flat wall with two silos that sit in front of the mural wall. The artist and Pacific Coast Producers had designed the mural to include the silos as an integral part of the mural. With the unpainted silos, the viewer cannot see the full mural as it is hidden by these permanent structures. If the silos had been included in the mural installation they would mirror the hidden sections of the mural. With the current code permanent three-dimensional structures such as silos and water towers are not included in the Salem Public Arts permit codes. I would like the City staff to prepare potential amendments to these types of murals for review by the Salem Public Art Commission.

That too would be great to see, and perhaps prompt even more creative kinds of murals.

Originally on the agenda for the November 9th meeting of the Art Commission, the City had published a Notice for a proposed mural on the north side of the Rivers condos overlooking the parking lot and corner of Court and Front Streets.

Proposed mural with cats and a library bookshelf

It was pulled and postponed to January, and it may be that the concept is being altered.

The concept is a variation of a critter mural, and the cats are sure to please. They inhabit a vaguely antiquarian library scene stocked with history books about Oregon, many from the 19th and early 20th centuries - most of them ones only a specialist would be able to recognize, though. A few are more modern, with a 2012 book on Chinook jargon and Gerry Frank's travel writing, for example. But the dominant mood is "old books," and perhaps a reason for the delay is to increase the legibility of individual titles or total design so it more clearly reads "Oregon history."

The current blank wall (Nov. 2022)

But that blank wall is big and until the parking lot is developed it would be nice to have something on the wall.

Looking from the parkade

The stairway and elevator shaft on the Chemeketa Parkade is much enlivened by the tree and woodpeckers - and more would be better!

Also on the Council agenda for Monday, as Urban Renewal Agency Council will consider a grant exception for $500,000 to support the renovation of the D'Arcy buildings at the former Whitlock's. The current limit is $300,000. The building that became Fork Forty got more in a combination of grant and loan, buildings at the former Boise site got more, especially the Park Front office building, and this request for an exception does not seem out of line from those. And given the building's location in the heart of downtown, and that the project includes a mix of eight apartments on the second floor, this is exactly the kind of project that should be supported.

It is nice also to note that the project drawings are very clear about retaining the grasshopper.

Grasshopper to stay!

It is one of the very best instances of public art in Salem. If you don't know about it, its discovery offers a kind of unexpected delight. If you do know about it, time and time again it offers pleasant whimsy.

Grasshopper from 1988 (now defunct Salemis)

Not all public art has to be as broadly legible as this, but has seemed that too many instances of it here have been hermetic and obscure, too much in a mode of "serious art" that requires an artist statement or other aid to parse and decode. Recent installations at the Library and Police Station have exemplified this. Hopefully the forthcoming installations at the new Public Works building will break this trend.

But there is the mural energy. The mural proposals are not being originated by any committee of professionals, but are instead bubbling up from a range of interests and perspectives. They are more populist. They are uneven, and that is just fine. The mural program builds its energy as a total and diverse ecosystem, and not as any one particular outstanding example. More is better!

I hope to see lots more of them, and for this new energy I am thankful today.

1 comment:

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Over on FB (here and here) people showed no interest in the actual titles of the "old books" on the bookshelf and very content with that more vague level of detail.