In 2019, the artist Kaycee Anseth completed a mural on Franklin Avenue under Highway 97. Artists transformed the drab underpass, which was nicknamed the "pee tunnel" by the pedestrians who walked it, into a bright yellow corridor featuring Anseth's stylized depictions of nature — birds and dandelions on the sides and stars adorning the ceiling. Now, the two Franklin underpass tunnel walls are back to a bleak grey and/or are dotted with graffiti tags, a pentagram and a particular harsh condemnation of a man named Jason.
Anseth's path to getting the mural painted took a long time and there were several roadblocks along the way. First, she had to get permission from the BNSF Railway. Though it's owned by a private company, it's a public right of way and the City's mural code is much less lenient about public property. Anseth, who later died of cancer, was threatened with fines if she proceeded on the project. However, the mural only survived a couple years before being painted over.
The board of the Kaycee Anseth Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit that supports local artists through funding, commission projects and public beautification, were shocked when they learned the underpass returned to its original state. Erin McDaniel, Anseth's sister, said she found out it was painted over last September. Bend spokesperson Anne Aurand said the City tried to maintain the mural, but after being persistently graffitied they covered it with standard gray paint.
"It was a huge community project. I believe at least 50 people had their hand and painting that piece. So, it didn't seem like it would be too hard to get anyone to buy into maintaining it and preserving it," said Cyr Beckley, a board member of the Anseth Foundation.
The mural is just one of two under the Franklin overpass. In 2021 Proyecto Mural brought together Latino artists to paint the other side of the tunnel as a complement to Anseth's piece. The mural features Central Oregon landscapes and themes from four Latin American countries. It's meant to represent what the painters' cultures mean to them in Central Oregon. Local artists Carly Garzon Vargas and Melinda Martinez designed the piece, and dozens of volunteers brought it to life. Though the mural is still up, many of its subjects are covered with splotches of paint and there are several graffiti tags through the tunnel.
"Unfortunately, Central Oregon LandWatch (the lead organization in the collaborative effort) doesn't have that role of maintaining it or cleaning it," said Janet Sarai Llerandi, one of the consultants on the project. "We know that there's going to be some big changes with the urban renewal that's happening in the core area. So, we knew it wasn't going to be a permanent fixture there and that it probably wouldn't be maintained."
Public murals are sometimes protected with a clear lining that can be removed while leaving the original artwork intact. Anseth's mural was maintained a couple of times by the foundation and the City, but members of the Anseth Foundation said they weren't informed when it was totally painted over. The nonprofit's aim is to create public works of art not only to support artists, but to improve quality of life for the public.
"There is data that proves that when you put art in public places, it improves the way people care for those places and feel about those places," said Shannon Kelley, a board member of the Anseth Foundation. "I want this whole town covered in art. That's why we really are trying to make it easier for artists to create more art, because we believe it is the answer."