Connecting artists and visitors along 363 miles of coastline

So far, the inventory for the Oregon Coast Public Art Trail includes 125 works, including sculptures, murals and functional art, in 27 communities.

The Oregon Coast is a natural draw for artists, some of whom return the favor by creating a piece of public art. If you live nearby, it’s easy to find these public works, but vistors might never see them. Plans are afoot to change that, with the coast-wide, self-guided Oregon Coast Public Art Trail.

Marcus Hinz, executive director of the Oregon Coast Visitors Association, came up with the idea while traveling the 363-mile coast.

“I would see public art in random places and wondered how anyone would ever find them,” Hinz said. “After a while, it dawned on me that one, there is a lot of public art on the Oregon Coast, and two, that our agency has never done a great job partnering with the coastal-art-culture community. The goal of this project is to help residents and visitors connect with artists, gain a deeper sense of place, and improve artists’ livelihoods.”

Georgia Gerber’s pair of Tufted Puffins roost near City Hall in Cannon Beach. Photo: Oregon Coast Visitors Association

He hopes it will also serve as a marketing tool, attracting tourists at times of the year when they wouldn’t normally visit.

What art will be featured on the trail hasn’t been decided. Kevan Ridgway, founding partner of tourism marketers Minds Aligned Group and a resident of Cannon Beach, has been charged with finding the pieces.

So far, he’s reached out to 27 communities along the coast and put together an inventory totaling about 125 works, including sculptures, murals and functional art, such as benches or trash cans. To be included on the trail, the art must be accessible by the public 24/7. But beyond that, the criteria are still being worked out. Ridgway is encouraging people with information about a
public art piece to email him at oregoncoastarttrail@gmail.com.

“Once I’ve got all the pieces in the inventory and have the photography completed, we’re going to put together a small committee that would say, ‘This would be good to use, this not so good’,” Ridgway said. “The Astoria Column, for example, is that a piece of public art or not? Down in Waldport and in Florence, too, there are towers on each side of the bridges going over the rivers. Are they public art or not? The things we prefer about the public art is that it’s got a name; we know who the artist is, dead or alive; and we can connect to the artist.”

Is the Astoria Column public art? That’s among questions organizers of the Oregon Coast Public Art Trail will answer. Photo: Friends of Astoria Column

He added that organizers envision an arts trail website that includes the name of each piece, an image and mapping for the location, the artist’s name and biographical information, and a website, if there is one.

Pieces expected to make the cut include puffin sculptures in Cannon Beach, bayfront murals in Newport and the sculpture on Amanda’s Trail in Yachats, which tells the dark story of an elderly Native American woman forced to walk barefoot 50 miles along the Oregon Coast.

In creating the final trail, Hinz is focusing on continuity.

“We need to create continuity in spacing out the public art stops,” he said. “We don’t want a 100-mile gap in the trail. There could be continuity in geography, continuity in the type of art and continuity in the visitor experience so it doesn’t feel disjointed.”

Florence tops the list for most pieces of public art, at about 25. The city has made public art a priority since 2015 with the formation of the Florence Public Art Committee, adding five new sculptures in just the past three months.

“The city slogan is ‘A city in motion,’ said Harlen Springer, chairman of the art committee.  “That means something is constantly happening. As part of the economic drive, we are trying to find ways to increase visitor traffic and make the city more enjoyable for people who live here.”

Public art both improves quality of life for residents, he said, and provides cultural awareness. “If you come into a town and see interesting art,” Springer said, “you are more likely to come and stay and start a business here.”

Hinz and Ridgway are also looking at including art made from reclaimed marine debris as a second component to the Public Art Trail. One piece, a puffin made by Angela Haseltine Pozzi of Bandon’s Washed Ashore project, is likely to be on the trail.

Puffins are a recurring theme on the Coast. Angela Haseltine Pozzi’s bird, at Coquille Point in Bandon, is made of reclaimed marine debris. Photo:  Washed Ashore

“We have a survey out right now where we are trying to reach artists to see who and how many would be interested in using reclaimed marine debris for their art and also entrepreneurs who may be interested in using it to sell,” Hinz said. “We want to know, will you use glass or metal or what? We want to know what to store. If we don’t get enough response, we’ll probably pull the plug on that. But we are interested to know.”

The pair hope to have the self-guided trail put together and available to the public by January 2019.

“Public art is a form of community expression,” Ridgway said in a visitors association press release. “So for visitors, public art is a great way to learn about a place. Hopefully, the Oregon Coast Art Trail will entice patrons of the arts to wander into local galleries, inquire about local theater performances, or plan a future visit to explore more of the art trail.”

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The Sitka Center for the Arts and Ecology is hosting an open house from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday to showcase “Grass Mountain,” its new 80-acre property in the Cascade Head Scenic Research Area.  Visitors will catch a shuttle at the Cascade Head Experimental Forest Research Station off of Old Highway 101 in Otis. Light refreshments will be provided, as well as live music and short hikes focusing on the local ecology. The event is free.

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