Community, Springfield

Springfield’s murals represent city history

Niel Laudati, legislative and public affairs director for the City of Springfield

Art has always played an important role in Springfield’s history. Niel Laudati, legislative and public affairs director for the City, said that before there were the restaurants and shops that drew people downtown, it was the murals.
As open and free exhibits, murals and art walks were activities that brought the community together and made the city brighter – usually by power of flashlight since Springfield didn’t have street lights 10 years ago.
”Early art walks had flashlight tours. Empty storefronts were filled with art so there was something happening,” Laudati explained. ”The culture is just people feeling at home in their community in Springfield. People are now proud to bring people downtown, and art has played a role.”
Laudati had his hand in two of Springfield’s staple murals, Springfield’s Ken Kesey and the Simpsons mural. At the time, the City didn’t have the arts commission and Laudati took on the technical pieces as project manager. In this role, he helped to determine what story the City was trying to tell, contract specifics, work with the committee to choose art and installer, run the day-to-day and follow up with maintenance. He added that the project manager also has to analyze whether the building is structurally sound and that the owner isn’t going to sell and have it be painted over.
”Number one is getting what the community wants, finding someone to do it and letting them do it,” he said.
For the Ken Kesey mural, Laudati said the council discussed bringing Springfield’s Kesey back. Laudati explained that residents remembered Kesey living in the area as a father, going to the library and supermarket.
”We wrote out two stories on this building and a polaroid snapshot of him in Springfield,” he said. ”We wanted something iconic.”
Not all murals in Springfield, however, went through the same process. Laudati said some days he will wake up and there will be a new mural in the City that was done privately.
”If it’s a private building, people have the flexibility to do what they like,” he said. ”The government role is when we have a council that wants art and expresses that, that people feel more comfortable about doing it. Our council has been very supportive of public art, and it’s expanded out into Springfield but it’s really in our downtown core.”
He added that businesses and building owners will come to the council and ask for their help in bringing art to a building.
Despite the desire for murals in Springfield, Laudati said that the process is ”filled with challenges.” Along with a balance between letting artists be artistic while also having them follow the theme, there is also the size of the application; Laudati doesn’t want to discourage artists who don’t have the time or money to fill out an application and not get the job. Another struggle is finding the right space that works for the mural, because not all the historic buildings can work with a mural.
Installation, however, is usually the easier part. The Simpsons one took between three and four days; although that isn’t normal for art, the City has hired professional installation teams who are used to quicker turnarounds.
Currently, Springfield has one mural in the works that will be going up on the west side of the Simply Cycle building that will have a ”Welcome to Springfield” theme. Laudati said that it was approved last year and their goal is to complete it before the Olympic Trials come to Eugene in 2020.
The Lane Arts Council also had a walking tour of 20 murals around downtown that happened on Saturday, June 22. This is the second time the mural tour has been hosted in Springfield.
The most rewarding aspect for Laudati is seeing the positive reactions of residents. Even if not everyone is happy with it at first, he said community ownership always comes in.
What makes it all worthwhile is ”having people say they love it, or even if they don’t like it but appreciate it’s there,” he said. ”When people take pictures in front of the Simpsons or go to the women’s veterans’ memorial and interacts with it, it makes it worthwhile.”



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