If you make it beautiful, they will come. That's what Douglas Robertson, founder of the High Desert Mural Festival (HDMF), believes. Unfortunately, a quirk in the wording of the Oregon Constitution is restricting where the event can display its art—a hurdle Robertson is hopeful will soon be overcome.
An accomplished artist with over 25 years of experience in art production, Robertson discovered mural art approximately six years ago. "I hadn't realized there was this movement taking place...that was so interactive and interesting," says Robertson. "The art world is a direct reflection of the overall economy and the middle market is gone," he explains, "Artists still wanted to interact with...society so they started painting outside."
Inspired by the movement, Robertson transitioned his own artwork into murals and began considering how they could impact the local community. That's when he came up with the idea for HDMF.
Patterned after similar events like Pow! Wow!—a successful mural festival that began in Hawaii—Robertson believes that HDMF has the potential be an economic driver and encourage positive development in Bend. "The idea is that if you make it beautiful it will become a more desirable place to be. There's no reason Bend can't develop a world class art festival," says Robertson.
While the HDMF has drawn support, wording in a sign code in Oregon's constitution prohibits murals from being painted on publicly owned buildings—which limits this form of art to privately-owned spaces such as Bend's Midtown Art Alley, which Robertson himself owns.
Robertson and the Festival's board have been interacting with The Arts, Beautification and Culture Commission of the City of Bend in an effort to amend the sign code.
On Aug. 18, a Commission subcommittee held a meeting to review code language and to amend the sign code to allow murals in the Makers District as a pilot project. According to City Recorder Robyn Christie, the hope is to have the pilot project in place by next year.
If all goes well, HDMF will be able to expand to the mural zone in the Makers District in 2017. For the time being it will be limited to a handful of privately-owned walls throughout Bend.
The HDMF will be held Oct. 2-9. Robertson says that this year's festival will be a mini version of what will come once the city code is amended. Murals will appear at the Midtown Art Alley, the Cosmic Depot art wall, and the Elk Meadow Elementary art wall. The Elk Meadow wall will be built over several weeks and local artists will be painting festival murals this year.
In the future, Robertson hopes the festival will draw national artists as well as art lovers from across the country.
High Desert Mural Festival
Oct. 2-9 471 NE Greeley Ave., Bend