A local artist wants to create a mural to brighten up the wall of an underpass that has gained a reputation for its blight.

But there’s not a clear way for her to do it.

Kaycee Anseth, a Bend artist, plans to ask the Bend City Council on Wednesday about how to amend the code to allow a mural in the Franklin Avenue pedestrian/bicycle underpass. The corridor, which connects east and west Bend, has long been perceived as unsafe and unsanitary, with some hotels going as far as telling guests to avoid it.

Just this past weekend, a mural pop-up event was held at the underpass to get people excited about the initiative.

Anseth’s project aims to fix the perception with better light and public art, but has been stalled due to confusion over what agency has jurisdiction over the wall, and by the lack of a formal policy to allow it.

“It’s a blind spot in this part of the city,” Anseth said. “How we treat our ugliest spots in our city is how we treat the whole city. It’s nicknamed the pee tunnel. We should address that.

“(Art) can create ownership over the area,” Anseth continued. “Once you show that you care about a place, then it’s going to respond, and the people that pester it will respond.”

After many walks and bike rides through the notorious tunnel, Anseth began to see the dark and dirty wall as a possible canvas for public art about a year ago.

“I’ve been to other cities and seen the power of public art and what it could do,” she said. “It seemed like a low-hanging-fruit way to contribute to the city I love so much.”

Since then, Anseth has been contacting the city about what needs to be done to get permission for the project.

The council last month amended city code to permit murals outside of the Maker’s District on private property after an elementary school group raised the issue earlier this year.

Murals may be allowed on structures within the public right-of-way by a vote from the City Council, but the City Council so far has opted not to consider any proposals until a program is established in conjunction with a separate body to receive and review requests.

It’s similar to the approach the city takes with how public art is chosen in the city’s roundabouts, said Anne Aurand, the city’s communication director. A private group, Art in Public Places, currently receives and vets art proposals.

This is to make sure the City Council is only approving or denying the existence of art in a public space, and not making decisions on its content.

Another complication with the project is the fact that there is not consensus over who exactly has jurisdiction over the wall. Last winter, Anseth got permission from BNSF railway to paint the site, but the Oregon Department of Transportation and the city of Bend also have some form of jurisdiction over the tunnel, Aurand said.

City Councilor Gena Goodman-Campbell, who is a supporter of the project, said her hope is for the council to discuss on Wednesday how the project can move forward in light of Anseth’s year’s worth of preparation.

Goodman-Campbell said she would support approving this first project with the help of Art in Public Places, and then work toward developing a systemwide program for future proposals.

“When we have a community member step forward and want to address a problem we know about, my feeling is we should jump on that opportunity,” Goodman-Campbell said. “And in such a creative and wonderful way.”

— Reporter: 541-633-2160, bvisser@bendbulletin.com