Street Painting

"The Belmont Cottage Street Painting Team"
Greta Berquist, Laura Herrmann, Erika Baker, Susan Napack, Alice Herrmann

Street Painting and Placemaking
By Laura Herrmann

Joy, belonging, satisfaction, hope - these are the feelings that rise up in me when I see the large, colorful street mural now on the intersection of Belmont and Cottage. Nestled in our neighborhood is a tangible reminder that, in a time when so many things in our world seem to pit us against each other, we chose to connect with neighbors around a shared space. We recognized the need for joy and we worked together to create it! The street mural is beautiful, not just because of the design and color scheme, but for the sense of neighborhood belonging, unity and collaboration it represents.

I had initially proposed painting a street mural in November 2022 at Grant’s Neighborhood Association meeting. I did this at the prompting of our city councilor and long time friend, Virginia Stapleton. In my proposal, I referenced the concept of placemaking which I interpret as people cooperating to create meaning and a sense of ownership in a physical, public place. I believe placemaking can take different forms and one of those forms is visual art, including street art! At that November Zoom meeting, the night was cold and dark. We were in separate homes listening and watching each other share ideas on flat screens. Dreams of a sunny, summer day when neighbors could gather in person to make the stark, gray asphalt of the street come alive with color seemed far-off and yet, my proposal was met with encouragement and action began. Susan Napack wanted to take a walk with me and discuss it more. Paul Tigan crafted a letter to be sent to the city. Virginia was right, talking with the Grant Neighborhood Association was a great place to start placemaking!

The next months included Susan and I expanding our team to include neighbors Greta Bergquist and Erika Baker. My daughter, Alice, also participated in the planning process as we developed different design ideas. Virginia continued to champion street painting with the City Council and a new city code was created to allow our project to proceed. Greta created a survey for neighbors to vote on their favorite designs and also a form for volunteer sign-ups as the event date grew nearer. Erika shared her expertise in mural design, knowledge of paint and color as we worked with Miller Paint to purchase supplies. Susan organized our meetings and finances, communicating with city officials and neighborhood leaders to ensure the project would happen. When the time came to paint, neighborhood volunteers poured into our streets to clean, set up road closure signs, shade tents, tables for children’s activities, buckets for paint clean-up, to share snacks and do the physical work of rolling and brushing paint on the intersection. It was truly a group effort and its significance is enjoyed by all of us who worked on it as well as by all of those who pass by to stop and appreciate it now. 

How long will the mural last? The question of longevity persists in nearly every conversation I have regarding our street painting. Having learned about other projects in other cities, we expect the street mural to need touching up in a few years and we have extra paint for this purpose. At the same time, I anticipate the painting to age with the coming seasons and that is natural and okay. We did not create it to last forever. Our placemaking will be no less significant as time takes its toll. In fact, relationships established through this process and future collaboration can grow and deepen even as the paint fades. As Salem’s first street painting, we have a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that our mural has helped shape a new city-wide program with guidelines for future Street Painting Projects. We hope other neighborhoods who want to create their own street art will take advantage of this opportunity! It is rewarding to engage in placemaking together. This is the lasting impact we have made. 

For a bird's eye view of "Cherry Blossoms" and other street painting of Salem, click here.

Neighbors powerwashed the intersection the night before painting begins.

Environment friendly clean-up station.

Primer painting begins.

Primer done!

Erika outlines the color sections

Kids line up to get their turn painting.

Filling in the color sections.

Councilor Stapleton gets into
the pink!

Erika and Laura chalking in the sun rays.

Erika's blossoms pull it all together.

Drone shot with shadows by Ed Ruttledge.

The beauty of the street painting stops everyone  in their tracks.