Blog / 2014 / How the Kirk Reeves Mural Is Funded and Why It’s Happening

July 17, 2014

The story begins for me in the summer of 2013, when the owner of 430 NE Lloyd in Portland approached the Regional Arts and Culture Council for help finding an artist. He had been told that he needed to put in either a certain kind of windows or a mural on the Grand side of his building in order to comply with the City’s rules for making the pedestrian experience of Portland more pleasant. And, since he wanted that wall to serve as the back of the shop for whatever business rented the building, he didn’t want windows.

The RACC introduced the owner to some local artists’ work, and I was on the RACC’s radar because I’ve been making my living as an artist for eleven years now and I’ve been based in Portland that whole time. During my career, I’ve applied for four RACC grants and received two, and, in the process, I learned a whole lot about grant-writing in general from this awesome institution. The RACC purchased two of my paintings for its Portable Art Collection a couple of years ago, and I also participated in a panel discussion about how to make a living as an artist that the RACC recently did as part of its outreach.

When the owner first contacted me about painting the wall, he had a vague idea that the image should be a composition with multiple faces, anonymous people with a we-are-the-world feel. I didn’t find the suggestion particularly inspiring, so I sat down and thought hard about what I would actually enjoy painting on this large scale and in this very public way.

When I pitched the portrait of Kirk to the owner, the RACC, and the City, it was not immediately accepted by all the parties. That said, the back-and-forth that we had about the mural is mostly uninteresting and, as far as I can tell, it was all a normal part of the mural process.

The only aspect of these negotiations worth sharing here is the part relating to Kirk’s Mickey Mouse hat. I had not included it in my original mock-up for the piece, but the City wanted me to portray the performer with the mouse ears.

I agreed to do so, but only if the City took full legal and financial responsibility for use of Disney’s trademarked material. When the City refused to do so, I refused to do the Mickey Mouse hat. It was not how I envisioned this work anyway, and I certainly wasn’t interested in taking on that sort of risk. For more about this rather puzzling part of the mural process, go here.

Of course, in the end, the mural of Kirk was approved by the City, the RACC, and the building’s owner. The majority of the money for the mural comes from the owner, and the RACC is contributing a smaller portion from the City of Portland General Fund.

Gwenn Seemel by Ifanyi Bell
still from Ifanyi Bell’s video

I started painting yesterday and the experience so far has been fascinating on many different levels. I’m learning to be okay with having my process be so public, mostly by setting up a mental block about the fact that it is!

I’m also getting used to applying paint on a vertical surface again since I rarely do that in the studio anymore, preferring instead to lay paintings down before working on them.

There are more things I’m discovering as I go—so many more! I’ll write more as I paint and learn!


October 1, 2014

I ended up sharing a lot more about the administrative behind-the-scenes of this project in this article.

Maybe this post made you think of something you want to share with me? Or perhaps you have a question about my art? I’d love to hear from you!


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