Salem councilor pushes for street art program to brighten neighborhood asphalt

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

Salem residents could soon see colorful murals brightening the asphalt of their residential streets.

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

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

The association voted to support a street mural program and sent a letter to the city.

On Monday, the Salem City Council will vote on establishing a city street mural program. Councilor Virginia Stapleton is bringing the motion forward.

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

She said she’s been working on the concept for several months and there are 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’s been trying to elevate neighborhoods and bring a sense of community.

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

Napack said the neighborhood is waiting on permission from the city before moving forward with designs.

She’s hoping they’ll have guidelines in the spring and time to paint in the summer.

“Being an artist and being attracted to all things that show kind of a creativity in the environment especially, it’s just a way to bring people together,” she said. “When I see any kind of public art, it sorts of stops me in my tracks.”

Chris D’Arcy, chair 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 for the building owner to grant the city an easement. It also requires the building owner to maintain the mural for at least seven years without alterations.

Those rules became the subject of controversy recently when a Salem business had a mural painted without approval from the city or the art commission.

The changes the council is considering to allow street murals wouldn’t change the rules for businesses and other displays on walls, but D’Arcy said the commission is in talks with the city on how to make the mural process less restrictive.

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

She said that’s what makes street murals attractive. They don’t require an easement and the streets are swept periodically by the city.

Street murals are maintained by community members living in the nearby vicinity. 

D’Arcy’s daughter lives in Portland and she’s seen several street murals while visiting her. Portland has a permit process for street paintings.

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

“I’m excited 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] 

JUST THE FACTS, FOR SALEM – We report on your community with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Get local news that matters to you. Subscribe to Salem Reporter starting at $5 a month. Click I want to subscribe!