Giant mural proposed for Ashland Elks building

ASHLAND — Public art will be blooming here soon, whether or not developer Lloyd Haines gets over a raft of hurdles to legally hang his eight paintings under the Lithia Way overpass.

The city's Public Arts Commission set a date of Nov. 20 to present its master plan to the City Council, taking paintings out from under the restrictive city sign code — and welcomed a proposal from the Ashland Elks Club to paint a mural on the side of its downtown building in commemoration of the structure's 100th anniversary in 2010.

The commission also slated Haines for a Nov. 16 appearance, where he will propose donating his paintings to the city. Haines drew controversy and the city's ire when he illegally bolted them in bays under Lithia Way on a state highway overpass, and wired and mounted lighting, all without permits. When the city refused to fast-track its approval to legalize Haines' art project, the state ordered them removed.

Pete Belcastro of the Elks Club said the Elks Lodge has been associated with a great deal of Ashland history, which could be represented on a "big, beautiful, empty wall" facing an adjacent bank — and possibly to be removed after the centennial.

The commission warmly received the proposal, offering its help with fundraising, a call for artists and a selection panel, which, according to city rules, would screen art according to quality, diversity, permanency, safety and other criteria, said Chairwoman Melissa Markell.

"It's great and it's timely because the sign ordinance is getting changed as part of our master plan. It's not an advertisement, and it would be oriented to history," said Markell.

Belcastro Friday told commissioners, "The history of the community is tied to the building. The mural will draw attention to all the people who have been through it. It's a huge space. It would be very unique. It would grow on you. Tourists will gawk at it."

The city's sign code prohibits "wall graphics" and was cited as an obstacle to hanging Haines' work under the bridge, though Haines never sought any permits or city approval of the art he commissioned. Passage of a new code allowing juried public art would remove a major hoop for Haines, but still leaving approval till after the new year.

"A lot of people would like to see that (city sign code) overturned," said Belcastro.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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