Despite popular misperceptions, Silverton is not Bedford Falls nor is it a dead-ringer for Mayberry. Mayor Rasmussen would never fly in Mayberry. Silverton is much more than what one sees on the surface.

In the fall of 1895, members of the Oregon State Secular Union (OSSU) agreed to begin a secular university. The Liberal University was to be located on Water Street. The school’s motto was “Universal Mental Liberty.” Within a few years, the school moved and shortly after, faded away.

Universal mental liberty seems like an odd phrase, open to seemingly endless, Talmud-like interpretation. But, for the sake of this conversation, let’s take it to mean a culture of free thought. As such, mental liberty persists in this city of less than ten thousand. For some inexplicable reason, Silverton has, over the years, attracted and been home to myriad painters and photographers, printmakers and a certain political cartoonist; playwrights and poets and a former theater critic from New York’s Village Voice; a Hollywood blockbuster propmaster and a writer/producer who created the second longest running advertising campaign on radio, among others.

Free thought, as manifested in the visual arts, can be seen in two Silverton locations: The Silverton Art Association and Lunaria Gallery.

Rumors have been buzzing around Silverton that there will be no fine arts festival this year. When interviewed, Moises Roizen, president of the Art Association board, laid said rumors to rest, announcing that the festival will take place August 17 and 18.

While the Fine Arts Festival is the Art Association’s most visible undertaking, continuing efforts in community involvement and education are having profound results. The Art Association offers art classes to every student in Silverton, from K through 12. They also offer after-school classes, operate a summer art camp and conduct art classes seasonally at the Oregon Garden. And last year, the Art Association opened the Park House Pre-School, which this year has already broken even. Not an art school per sé, but, the Park House utilizes the arts as a backdrop to the curriculum, as a tool for children to communicate and express themselves.”

Seventeen years ago, a few local Silverton artists decided to band together and open the Lunaria Gallery. Like the Art Association, the founding members of the then new co-op gallery saw the benefits of promoting community events and started First Friday celebrations, which took off. Before long, shops and restaurants in town joined in. First Friday brings folks downtown to shop, browse, dine and drink. Each First Friday features a member – and occasionally a guest – artist reception for a new exhibition featuring a member artist. The gallery has had a recent makeover and is doing better than ever. Some of the past and current members of the gallery also display their work in Salem and some have amassed regional, national – and in some cases – international followings. As Ann Altman says, “Successful artists from Silverton act as goodwill ambassadors for the community.”

This story is part of a series in partnership between Salem Art Association and Salem Weekly.  Its purpose is to address a need for more critical and analytical discussions about the arts in and around Salem, and to provide a much needed resource for artists about local opportunities and events.