Saturday, August 16, 2014

Buckman Community Mural

Our next bit of public art is a large mural celebrating Portland's Buckman neighborhood, located on the side of a Plaid Pantry convenience store at SE 12th & Morrison. The neighborhood looks positively glamorous in the mural, and I'm not sure it's ever looked quite that energetic and cosmopolitan in real life. Which I suppose is the whole point. This mural was created by the late Joe Cotter in cooperation with the Buckman neighborhood association and dates to 2008.

It's not the first mural at this location. The neighborhood association and Plaid Pantry have teamed up on murals here since 1982, around the time they also teamed up on the (currently missing) Black Hole No. 4, at 20th & Ankeny. The 1982 mural was designed by Geoff Clark & painted with the help of local grade school kids. I don't know whether there were other designs in the years in between, or whether there was even a mural here at all the whole time. Maybe the old mural is still under there somewhere, waiting to be discovered by future art conservators, similar to how they're forever X-raying paintings and realizing a Van Gogh is painted over the top of another previously-unknown Van Gogh.

Cotter also created community murals in Estacada, as well as a lot of groovy paintings for McMenamins locations around Portland.

Murals have given the city fits over the years. The Oregon constitution's free speech provision is quite a bit more expansive than the federal First Amendment; the state Supreme Court has famously held that nude dancing and live sex shows are constitutionally protected free expression. A less well-known consequence is that government bodies can't legally distinguish between commercial speech and other speech, since the state constitution doesn't explicitly say they're allowed to do that. Therefore if you let someone put up a huge mural about their awesome neighborhood, you also have to allow equally huge Applebees billboards. The city hates that. For a number of years they simply banned all murals, as the price of keeping billboards out. That became deeply unpopular. A neighborhood or a small business would decide to paint a mural, being ignorant of the city's policy, and pour their heart and soul into creating it, only to have city workers appear and frantically paint it over before the billboard companies and their lawyers found out. This was a sad spectacle, so eventually the city came up with a creative legal dodge instead. You apply to the city if you want to create a mural, and grant the city an easement over the finished mural so it becomes "public art" and part of RACC's mural collection. It is assumed implicitly that your community mural will pass muster, and a mural of Applebees mozzarella sticks won't, whatever their relative aesthetic merits might be.

Curiously the Buckman mural doesn't seem to be on the RACC list, unless I'm missing something. Either it was grandfathered in thanks to the 1982 mural, or whoever maintains their website isn't doing a very thorough job. If it's the latter, it wouldn't be the first time.

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