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Murals as public art?


Of the Keizertimes

A new program could allow murals to be put up in Keizer after all.

City Attorney Shannon Johnson has been working on an amendment to the city’s sign code, in light of plans to install the city’s first mural on the side of Keizer Florist. An artist has already been selected, with plans calling for the mural to be done in August.

While Mayor Lore Christopher initially thought the process would be easy, Johnson looked into it and found the city’s sign code adopted in 1990 consider murals to be signs and thus doesn’t allow them.

“There were no murals in town at the time and the concern was that a future mural would be a way to get around the sign regulations,” Johnson said at the Jan. 21 Keizer City Council meeting. “The only options to allow murals would be to increase sign area allowances significantly, allow ‘commercial murals’ or implement a Public Art program. A Public Art program is the only method that would preserve the sign regulations.”

Johnson said Public Art programs in Portland, Salem and Beaverton were looked at. He suggested forming a Keizer Arts Commission with a set criteria.

“The artist or property owner would make an application (for art) to the commission and would be approved or not,” Johnson said. “It would technically be owned by the city, so we get some safeguards. The Portland program has something we won’t be able to add: money. They fund it.”

Johnson noted the Keizer Planning Commission in December unanimously voted to approve an amendment to allow public art – in particular murals – as an exception or exemption to sign code regulations.

Christopher suggested checking with Cottage Grove and Silverton about how they have handled the issue, since both cities have murals.

“I know another artist has approached us about doing a mural,” Christopher said.

Councilor Dennis Koho expressed concerns about an application coming in for art “a large number of citizens might find distasteful.”

Johnson noted a similar concern was brought up in the Planning Commission meeting.

“One question they had was could we be opening a can of worms?” Johnson said. “The answer is yes. There is a potential for someone to submit a thing the way you suggested.”

Koho opined business owners would be careful about what to put up.

“People aren’t going to want to put up something that drives customers away,” he said. “They will want to put up things that are tasteful.”

Staff was directed to bring back an ordinance for adopting the amendment at a later council meeting.