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Proposed Kelso mural causes controversy

Proposed Kelso mural causes controversy

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Kelso mural design

Final design proposal for a mural in downtown Kelso.

What began as a public art project in Kelso has become embroiled in controversy.

The Kelso City Council Tuesday will discuss proposed designs for a mural on the Allen Street Bridge’s east abutment along South Pacific Avenue.

Workforce Southwest Washington, with Urban Artworks of Seattle, approached the city last month about using the blank space under the bridge desk for a mural designed and painted by five local students ages 18 to 22, City Manager Steve Taylor said Monday.

Funding for the project is provided in a grant from the Price Foundation and workforce development money, according to the city.

Because the mural would be on city property, the council gets final approval of the design. The council approved the project proposal earlier this month on condition that some features were changed to be a more positive representation of Kelso. The council then appointed Mayor Nancy Malone and Councilman Mike Karnofski to continue meeting with the group to reach an agreement about the design.

Artist Forest Wolf Kell said the mural is meant to reflect the five students’ experiences in Kelso. In a description of the design, Kell said he used themes from his conversations with the students, including the center symbol of two clasped hands which represent the idea of a “helping hand.”

“The boots, the logs, the dip net and the chains are a representation of Kelso’s rich logging and fishing industry, which led to the growth of the city and community,” Kell wrote.

Karnofski told The Daily News Monday that he liked the final design and wanted the project to move forward.

“Some people may think it looks more like graffiti, but to me it’s something you would expect from students,” he said. “I think it would show that Kelso is willing to look at itself. They looked at it from a historical perspective and put a lot of symbolism into the mural.”

However, Malone was uncomfortable with the chosen symbolic images and artistic style, Taylor said. She thought it would be better in a different part of the city instead of downtown, across from City Hall, he said. Malone did not return calls for comment Monday.

Urban Artworks posted the design on social media last week and said Malone “single handily (sic) and inexplicably pulled the plug” on the project. The post elicited responses from people both in support of the design and those who thought it did not adequately represent Kelso.

Councilmen Jeffrey McAllister and Larry Alexander both wrote comments that appeared to support Malone.

“The mural itself does not represent Kelso to me,” McAllister wrote. “If you removed the KSD logo from the train this mural could represent any town or city in the area. Feedback I received from constituents agreed with that assessment.”

The council will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Kelso City Hall to review the new design and decide whether the project can move forward. Both Taylor and Karnofski said they couldn’t predict which way the council would vote.

“I’m worried (the mural) might not happen at all,” Karnofski said. “I’m concerned there might be some backtracking from other members of the council. I’m never sure ... there will be the majority of the four votes.”

In other parts of the meeting, the council will:

  • Hold a tribute to Library Manager Cindy Schimpf, who died suddenly on Aug. 27.
  • Allocate 2019 tourism dollars. The Lodging Tax Advisory Committee has recommended $20,000 for the Highlander Festival, $67,000 for the Visitor Information Center and $100,000 to Tam O’Shanter Park.
  • Consider a maintenance agreement with the state Department of Transportation to clean and inspect the Coweeman Bridge in October. The initial cleaning will cost nearly $44,000 and then the five subsequent annual cleanings will total nearly $78,000, to be paid for with the City Street Fund.
  • Set a public hearing for the vacation of Elm Street between Fourth and Fifth streets to allow upgrades to Wallace Elementary School.
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