7 Salem neighborhoods will add street murals thanks to grant

There’s a lot of bright paint planned for Salem streets in the coming year.

After the July debut of the city’s new street mural painting program in the Grant neighborhood, Travel Salem is sponsoring the painting of seven additional colorful paintings on local streets.

Angie Onyewuchi, Travel Salem president, said in her travels she’s seen how community art can make a destination more vibrant and desirable.

“I see a lot of this mural art, projects done into neighborhoods that really reflect the character and personality of the neighborhood,” Onyewuchi said. “Visitors do want to see community-based projects like that. They want to see authentic experiences and really get to know a community that they’re visiting.”

Seven neighborhood associations have signed up to participate, with each to receive a $1,000 grant from Travel Salem toward paint and supplies.

“I’m most excited to have the opportunity to bring more neighbors together,” said Irma Coleman, the neighborhood program coordinator for the city of Salem. She said she’s received positive feedback about the Grant mural and is excited to see the program expand with help to cover costs.

While anyone can apply for a street mural permit, so far neighborhood associations have led the charge, she said.

“Most people in the community don’t know about their neighborhood association, have never heard about their neighborhood association so I think this is the best way to connect neighbors with each other,” Coleman said.

The Highland neighborhood will be the first to participate, and leaders have already submitted a permit application to the city with their design, said Cullen Armstrong, who processes city permits for the program.

Their design will feature a sunrise mountain and riverscape scene, with a blue, green, yellow and orange palate.

Once painted, murals are left on the street until they naturally fade away, though neighborhoods could apply again to refresh the paint, Armstrong said.

Northgate will be among the early participants, with hopes of getting artwork at the intersection Northeast Donald Street and Northeast Carlton Way by late September, said Amador Aguilar, a former neighborhood association board member who’s working on the project.

Aguilar said the intersection is where the neighborhood has for years hosted a National Night Out block party. Neighborhood leaders are working to identify artists and bring people together to come up with a design, which they hope will incorporate major features of the Northgate area like Northgate Park, the nearby Career Technical Education Center and other businesses and neighborhood landmarks that can help show people what Northgate is about.

“We wanted to be inclusive with the idea of the mural,” Aguilar said.

Artist Leslie Venti has signed on with Travel Salem to paint several of the murals and help coordinate projects depending on neighborhood interest.

She’s painted wall art and murals at family businesses, including Salem’s two Venti’s locations and Basil & Board, and said she’s eager to help get paint on local streets.

“These have been kind of fun things that I’ve been able to do because there are wall spaces within our family businesses,” she said. “It’ll be a real gift for me to participate in these other parts of our community. I get to meet neighbors in other communities.”

The Faye Wright and Sunnyslope neighborhoods have also signed on.

Sally Cook, the former Salem city councilor, serves on both boards and said she and her neighbors were eager to participate.

“It’s something that really impacts quality of life where people are,” she said of street art. “They do have the ability to bring communities together and define communities as a place.”

Venti will paint the mural for Faye Wright, basing her design on broad parameters from the neighborhood. Cook said they wanted a nature-focused piece incorporating oak trees, Pringle Creek and the animal mascots of nearby schools, including a shark to represent Schirle Elementary.

“They don’t have to be regular animals, they could be doing fun, magical, mysterious things,” she said.

The Faye Wright and Sunnyslope murals are being planned for 2023.

West Salem, South Central and North Lancaster neighborhood associations are also discussing mural plans with Travel Salem, said Isis Thornton-Saunders, the organization’s community relations specialist.

The project is part of a larger Travel Salem strategy to focus more on outreach to Salem residents.

While that might sound odd, Onyewuchi said locals are a major driver of tourism and often serve as de-facto guides for visitors from out of town.

“Family and friends coming to visit folks in the Salem area, they leave behind a lot of discretionary income. They go to our restaurants, they go to our retail stores. Sometimes they stay in our hotels,” she said. “The folks who live in our community are really ambassadors for the tourism industry.”

Travel Salem was already planning to sponsor a series of neighborhood block parties that would serve as opportunities for local leisure and hospitality businesses to meet residents and allow Salemites to become more familiar with their services.

Now, she said, the murals will serve as a precursor to those parties, with neighborhoods first commissioning and organizing the painting, then celebrating the completion with a party.

“We’re really, really excited about this project,” Onyewuchi said.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.