Who: Kaycee Anseth is a Bend artist known for her unique wildlife collages as well as murals around downtown and the Old Mill. Now, Anseth is spearheading an effort to clean up and paint a mural on the north end of the Franklin Avenue North Pedestrian Railroad Tunnel, along with, eventually, art by homeless artists in the nearby area. The area is a jurisdictional intersection of agencies: Oregon Department of Transportation, Burlington North Santa Fe Railway and the City of Bend. Read on as Anseth discusses the plan and the process of cutting through the red tape.
Q: Can you explain the Franklin Avenue Underpass Project and how it was conceived?
A: It must have been spring of last year … I was sitting having a conversation with one of my artist friends, and we were just talking about projects we’d like to do, and it just came to me. I was working at Oregon Spirit (Distillers) at the time, and I walked the Franklin underpass pretty regularly. My husband was working at Foxtail Bakeshop, and he walked it twice a day. And so, I don’t know, it just hit me so that I was like, “This would be amazing.”
Q: What kind of things were you seeing in the underpass that made you think this would be cool to do?
A: Well, it’s definitely got this dark and dingy vibe right now. The main thing that intrigued me was, I’ve been to New Your City several times, and one of my favorite parks is The High Line. It’s built on this old railroad track that goes straight through lower Manhattan, but it’s raised above the city. It’s a unique park. So despite the (Franklin) tunnel, when you’re walking (west) toward downtown, the sidewalk opens up and it’s almost like a protected street, because it’s wide enough to drive a car on, but … it’s just this wide path that right now is just asphalt, and I was like, how brilliant would it be if this was like a High Line, where you had native plants and sculptures and park benches and lighting at night, and it would totally just transform the whole area using not just art, but also smart landscape design. … Take a place that has a lot of anxiety about it, and just transform it into something that feels cared for, and that would inspire people to care for it.
Q: What was your next step, getting in touch with Central Oregon Land Watch?
A: I reached out to Moey (Newbold at COLW) just because I had met her through a couple of Land Watch things and I just thought she would think it’s a great idea, and she totally did. I was more reaching out to her for her advice about a way to step forward when she took me under her wing for it. We’ve been working together on it for the last year. … Everybody was like, this idea is brilliant, but the problem is it’s an overlap in the jurisdiction of ODOT, BNSF railroad and the city. In order to get everybody on the same page, it’s been kind of a process.
Q: Where’s the process at now?
A: We decided to go baby steps first. The first baby step is just painting one of the underpass tunnels that is owned by the railroad. And I have permission from the railroad to do that. They take no exception in it. … The city has honestly been the hardest part. … The new mural code the city council passed is great, for private buildings. It doesn’t include any kind of protocol for moving forward where it’s art in the public right of way, which is retaining walls, the tunnel is considered the public right of way because the sidewalk goes through it, and … (in) a lot of towns you see electrical boxes painted. So there’s no code right now in the mural section to handle those things. … We really need to put something in place if we want to have public art in this town, because there’s no path forward for it. … (Other) cities have protocol in place in order to do public art. You apply very easily. There’s a website. I’m sure they have panels in place. And Bend doesn’t have that yet.
Q: It sounds like it’s getting there.
A: It is. But like when I was talking to the permit department, they were like, “Maybe this is the project to spearhead getting that put in place.” I’m like, “Yes! And, um, no!”
Q: And you had an event on Saturday to promote it?
A: We did. Saturday we held a little pop-up in that kind of wide, protected sidewalk area that would be perfect as a park. … It could be a pocket park really beautifully. … This area is where a lot of people experiencing homelessness hang out. There’s a lot of litter there typically. People are already spending time there, so we don’t want to displace them even further. We’ve done a lot of outreach with some artists that are also homeless right now to see if we could get their feedback about it and their participation in it. … I want to install the mural in the north tunnel, but I want to get other artists to do stuff as well in the whole area, and then there’s the south tunnel. Pulling in as many people who use the space as possible, to be able to creatively take care of it together, is like another aspect of the vision of it. … We used the pop-up to get feedback from people that were using the underpass to get their support, get their emails, honestly and kind of showcase what it could look like.
Q: What kind of reaction did you get to the idea from people passing through?
A: Almost every single person was super excited. We put in probably about 30 to 35 man hours of volunteer time in the first two weeks of June cleaning, scraping the tunnel, picking up trash. Every single person that was passing through thanked us. They were so excited. We had one person, he’s a resident who lives very close by on Franklin. He was kind of voicing his concern about the idea of just displacing the community again — like if you clean it up, that is just going to push the people that are hanging out there to another part of town. We’re trying to address that in the plan. But everyone else, seriously, that came through was just so grateful that we were doing anything there.
Q: I just watched the short movie on your website about your collage process. When did you discover that technique?
A: About 12 years ago, I didn’t have time to finish a going-away present because oil paint takes so long to dry. So I was like, “I’m just going to do a little collage real fast.” Something clicked. It made so much sense. Painting has always been an interesting language for me, but collage just felt like my native tongue. That’s the only way I can describe it.
Q: Watching it, I was like, “Where does she get all her magazines?” Or is that a trade secret?
A: People are always donating them to me. I get a phone call probably once a month, “Hey, how’s your supply?” And I’m like, “I’m overflowing. Put them in the recycle bin.”
— David Jasper, The Bulletin