Bringing art to the streets of Florence

Public Art Committee seeks to establish art experiences, increase community engagement

Members of the Florence Public Art Committee (PAC) want to bring the “wow factor” to Florence through increased visibility of murals, sculptures and other artwork.

PAC, made up of seven members and two city ex-officio members, has been working since July 2015 to bring art to the streets and create a cohesive public art plan for the City of Florence.

The committee’s tagline is, “Experience Florence — where every day is a celebration of the arts.”

“Most cities in Oregon already have public art and a public art committee,” said PAC Chairman Harlen Springer. “A lot of cities do this, and do it very successfully. We’re kind of late to the game.”

Since PAC is funded through the Florence Urban Renewal Area, which budgeted $250,000 for PAC, most of its efforts are centered around Historic Old Town Florence, though members hope additional funding sources will allow for public art to spread throughout the area.

“We want Florence to be known for more than sand dunes,” Springer said. “We need to expand the economy here to the arts and for people to interact with the arts.”

Florence City Recorder Kelli Weese said the arts are very much a part of the city’s fabric.

“It ties into the city’s objectives of livability and quality of life and economic development,” she said. “It’s one of the reasons people to want to stay in a community. Recreation, parks, arts — all those things some people consider ‘fluffy’ are a big part of what makes people want to stay and move here.”

PAC Vice Chair Susan Tive agreed.

“We want arts to have an impact on everyone who lives in Florence and the community. It’s as essential as the roads being safe and the water being good to drink. We want people to know it’s for them,” she said. “Public art is for Florence, not just the people who are visiting.”

PAC volunteers have spent the past two years gathering data from successful art destination cities in Oregon, researching mural codes and creating five action items.

“All of us love the arts, we love our community and we want the City of Florence and our area to prosper,” said Committee Member Jo Beaudreau. “The main projects we have picked will make a nice groundwork for future projects and future generations.”

"Totem Pole" by Steve Benson

and donated to the city by Gerald Curran

(courtesy photo)

The first project has already been partially rolled out: Creating art from the utilities on Bay Street.

In May, PAC members Jennifer French and Ron Hildenbrand coordinated with the art programs in Siuslaw School District to invite youth to paint the covers of 15 trash receptacles. Plaques showing the students’ names and the titles are now included.

“This project came about because the committee discussed the ways we can make an impact quickly, and how we can beautify what’s already there,” Weese said. “It’s a way to make things that are utilitarian more beautiful.”

The project experienced some pushback by Old Town residents, but Springer said it was a chance to open a dialogue.

“Some people were surprised to see the project,” he said. “It’s change, and it’s different. And until now we haven’t done a very good job of telling people what we’re doing.”

The next aspect of this project will be to refurbish some of the city’s bus shelters, and eventually add artist-created decals. The tentative timeline is to begin the call to artists in the fall.

PAC’s second project will be a mural on the Central Lincoln PUD building at the corner of Highways 101 and 126. The mural could fill the entire eastern wall, all 125 feet by 17 feet.

The mural is set to be completed next spring and summer.

The third project is to update the steps connecting Highway 101 and Old Town. The artists who answer the call for entry will get to decide to place tiles on the risers of the steps, or use a different medium, such as paint.

“We are trying to suggest that artists have a community engagement part to their proposal so the that community members and school kids can come out and put some of the final touches on it, or have an actual hands-on experience with it,” said Tive.

Beaudreau said, “The stairway will really be a pedestrian gateway between Old Town and Highway 101. It will make Florence more accessible on foot than it has been in the past. It’s also pretty timely with the ReVision Florence project the city is doing to revamp things.”

PAC’s fourth project is Art Exposed, a continual project that will place five public art pieces along Bay Street, from Siuslaw River Coffee Roasters to Maple Street, for two years, or until the pieces sell. The committee will then add new pieces in rotation.

Committee Member Jayne Smoley said, “The artwork in Art Exposed will have the most impact on the community by blending into the Old Town landscape, but at the same time being very well exposed.”

Springer said Art Exposed will keep the work “fresh” until the city decides on permanent pieces for the five locations: near the coffee shop, in the rain garden at Siuslaw River Bridge Interpretive Center, near Waterfront Depot, towards the front of Gazebo Park and at Maple Street Park, at the junction of Bay and Maple streets.

The fifth project is also already in motion. Since 2015, several people have inquired about donating artwork to the city. PAC then had to create a process to accept donated pieces.

The first piece, “Totem Pole,” a winged cedar sculpture featuring scenes of the Siuslaw River Bridge, was made by Steve Benson and donated to the city by Gerald Curran. It is now residing in Gallagher Park near the “Welcome to Florence” sign.

A second piece, “Cascade” by David Miller and donated by Harold and Elizabeth Ann Anson, is a red metal sculpture that used to reside at Laurel and First streets in Old Town. It will also be placed in Gallagher Park.

Now that PAC’s art projects have been set and budgeted, the committee will hold a forum on Monday, Aug. 14, to add public input to the committee’s two-year process.

“These are our definitive projects that are being worked on,” Springer said. “Now it’s time to engage the public into that dialogue.”

In planning its projects, PAC has worked with Oregon Department of Transportation, Central Lincoln, City of Florence, Florence Public Works, the city attorney and private business and landowners.

“We haven’t talked to the public about our projects much yet because we have been working on the paperwork aspect,” Beaudreau said. “Everything has been in process. Now, we’re going to be able to blossom.”

Besides the forum, community involvement is being sought in other ways, starting primarily with calls to artists.

PAC decided to use CaFÉ ( to host the calls for artists. This free website allows any artist, anywhere in the world, to create a free profile and subscribe to calls based on their area of expertise. In return, more than 500 agencies globally submit calls to artists.

Beaudreau said, “This is bringing art to the next level. Artists should not be uncomfortable about submitting a profile on CaFÉ, since this is going to help find other calls for art as well, not only here in this area, but regionally and internationally.”

Each of PAC’s projects will have separate calls to artists, which will also be published more locally, and will be open to any artist.

“We’re very excited to use this resource, since we think we’re going to get a really high level of art from a wide variety of people,” Springer said.

Community members will also have the chance to serve on the selection committees for the projects.

“We don’t want to do this in a vacuum,” Weese said. “We want to get input from the public and stakeholders, people who have businesses or homes nearby, for each of these projects.”

PAC will also work with people willing to write grants, help with landscaping or donate expertise or funds.

“These things we’re doing will allow people to engage with the community,” Beaudreau said.

The five projects’ one to two-year processes will allow for a comparatively quick completion.

“We love that these are projects we can do now,” Weese said. “Urban Renewal is excited about that as well, since so much of what it does is on a huge scale, like ReVision Florence. We can show progress for all our projects with relatively short timelines.”

Quick projects, such as the Bay Street receptacles, also shows that PAC is making a consistent effort.

“It’s important that what we do initially is seen by the people who live here,” Hildenbrand said. “The public has to get behind the public art projects, and the dream of this committee. If we don’t get the community behind it, it’s not going to fly.”

PAC’s “Bringing Art to the Streets” Public Forum will be held at City Lights Cinemas on Monday, Aug. 14, at 6:30 p.m.

For more information on PAC, visit or contact Weese at 541-997-3437.

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