Public Murals Policy

In 1993, Mayor Vera Katz and a majority on the City Council, sought to restrict the proliferation of commercial outdoor billboards, and keep murals legal, while at the same time, the outdoor sign company Clear Channel fought all those effort on court. [i]


In 1991, tried to draw a distinction between signs and "painted wall decorations." Under City rules, to distinguish them from signs, murals would be defined as, "decorations," could include no numbers, letters, logos or trademarks.[ii] Clear Channel sued the City. A Multnomah County judge agreed in 1998 that the Oregon Constitution's expansive free speech clause protects commercial speech every bit as much as non-commercial speech. The city could not look at the content of an image to determine whether it was a sign or a mural. So, murals would have to follow the same rules as signs. In response to this ruling, the city quickly imposed a moratorium on murals to stop more billboards. [iii] But the game wasn't over. When the city and Clear Channel returned to court for a second round of litigation in 2007, local mural advocate Joe Cotter[iv] intervened and asked the judge to consider the free speech rights of muralists. Based on Cotter's evidence, Judge Michael Marcus refined the earlier rulings. He said that murals could be separated from billboards by their "distinct" traits, such as means of production, duration and absence of revenue generation.[v] The challenge for Adams’ and his staff in 2009, working with Commissioner Randy Leonard and Mayor Tom Potter’s office, was to craft a workable city policy to legalize murals while staying with in the boundary of court’s decision and not triggering another lawsuit over regulating content. [vi]

Key provisions of the new policy: murals must be hand-painted, be expected to last more than five years and be painted no higher than a building's second floor. A mural could generate no rent or revenue to the building owner.[vii]



Footnotes


[i] Leeson, Fred (February 19, 2009). "Mural morass drips toward city regulation After more than a decade of legal wrangling, muralists may ply their craft again soon Mural morass inches." The Oregonian. [ii] Stern, Henry (December 3, 2003). "Katz proposes murals taken off sign code, designated art." The Oregonian. Page B1. [iii] Moore, Scott (May 31, 2007). "The Sign of Signs to Come: Court Ruling May Set Murals Free." https://www.portlandmercury.com/news/the-sign-of-signs-to-come/Content?oid=334064. Portland Mercury. Retrieved 2018-20-2. [iv] Ruiz, Amy (November 29, 2005). “Standing up for art: Mural Painter Intervenes in Clear Channel Lawsuit.” https://www.portlandmercury.com/news/standing-up-for-art/Content?oid=35807. Portland Mercury. Retrieved 2018-20-2. [v] Leeson, Fred (February 19, 2009). "Mural morass drips toward city regulation After more than a decade of legal wrangling, muralists may ply their craft again soon Mural morass inches." The Oregonian. [vi] Editorial Board (June 29, 2009). “Relaxing city policy on murals.” The Oregonian. [vii] Leeson, Fred (February 19, 2009). "Mural morass drips toward city regulation After more than a decade of legal wrangling, muralists may ply their craft again soon Mural morass inches." The Oregonian.

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