The future of a beloved work of public art, the Peace Mural constructed on the exterior of Salem’s downtown YMCA, is currently uncertain.
“This work is an Oregon cultural treasure, a Salem cultural treasure,” says Paulann Petersen Oregon Poet Laureate Emerita.
Many in the community are concerned because the YMCA building to which the mosaic is attached is beginning a process of much–needed reconstruction, and will be torn down. First opened in 1926, the building has recently failed to be energy efficient and lost some structural integrity.
The YMCA is being rescued by the Oregon legislature, specifically by means of a bill crafted by Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney (District 11) during the 2017 session.
Senate Bill 5530 authorized the issuance of $12 million in public lottery funds “to construct a new YMCA facility in Salem,” providing monies that will initiate community support for the rebuilding effort, estimated to cost $24 million in total.
But even as the YMCA moves forward with plans to raise the balance of the funding, what remains unclear is the fate of the sixty-foot long Salem Peace Mosaic attached to its exterior walls.
Conceived and constructed in 2011 as a community project and following guidelines crafted by the Salem Public Arts Commission, the mosaic was created with the involvement of more than 600 local people. More than 25,000 glass, porcelain and stone tiles were used to construct unique and Oregon-themed images of rivers, trees, wildlife and mandalas that celebrate Salem as a city of Peace.
Contributors included students from McKinley School, Parrish Middle School and North Salem High School. Workshops to create it were held at a senior center, a coffee shop, two art centers, an art fair, a park and two correctional facilities to involve those often marginalized in the creation. Four poets participated, and a poem specially written by Oregon Poet Laureate Paulann Petersen flows through the tiles.
The mural is absent from architectural drawings shared at a recent meeting, and Sam Carroll, CEO of the YMCA says the artwork is “actually the property of the Salem Public Arts Commission,” which is meeting May 9 to discuss its future.
In recent weeks, scores in Salem have spoken in support of the mural’s ongoing life and vitality.
It’s “an amazing success,” says Salem artist Ann Kresage. “Its message of Peace for our city of Peace is clear, inspiring and positive. Every time I drive by, I see children and their parents looking at it, reading it, touching it. It makes a difference in unifying our community.”
Salem’s Cathy Daniels hopes community members will “speak up to ensure this community hands-on art installation is preserved for the future… It must be preserved as a beautiful example of a community-wide art project.”