An ambitious plan to discover, document and share the Oregon Coast’s wealth of public art is underway again after a two-year hiatus. Three contractors are currently at work for the Oregon Coast Visitors Association, sleuthing out all the public art that exists along the Oregon Coast. Their findings will get distilled into the Oregon Coast Public Art Trail, a self-guided tour that highlights the arts and culture attractions of some 40 coastal communities.

“We’re not so much creating a trail as connecting people to the arts and culture that exist in these communities,” says OCVA’s Executive Director Marcus Hinz. Public art becomes the cultural gateway, he explains, introducing visitors to local galleries, theaters and other attractions.

Three contractors began in November: Karen Olson for the North Coast, Sarah Moehrke for the central and Stacey Reynolds for the south. Each is working with the local arts community, various government agencies and officials, and whomever else might have ties to the arts in their region. “It’s literally a lot of foot work,” says Olson, “hearing about something, scouting out hidden corners, finding the treasure. If you give me permission to take a deep dive down a rabbit hole, I’m in. And this is a really deep rabbit hole.”

For each piece of art, the trio notes the name and the artist (if they can find it), takes photos, records the precise location (address and latitude/longitude), determines who owns the land, and writes a description. Along with providing an inventory for the art trail project, the documentation will go into the Oregon Tourism Information System (OTIS) database. DMOs can use the information for their own marketing materials, and OCVA will look at the data to identify any gaps where it can work with communities to build up their cultural assets.

For now, it’s all about the detective work. “The adage is true—you find what you’re looking for,” says Olson. There’s the ocean mosaic mural at her child’s elementary school in Nehalem, the Garden of Surging Waves tribute to Chinese Americans in Astoria, the lovely soldier’s memorial in Warrenton. “I’ve been driving by some of these things for a decade and never knew they were there,” she says.

The project defines public art as art that is accessible 24/7 without needing permission, and without fees or admissions charges. “I think the accessibility aspect of this program is so important,” says Moehrke. “Not everybody has the opportunity to spend the afternoon at an art museum in Eugene. The arts and artists in these communities have so much to offer. They open up our eyes to a bigger world.”

Beyond those accessibility parameters, the art trail will likely include a range of media, from a “sound garden” of xylophones in Lincoln City, to painted storm drains in Coos Bay, to many of the beautiful bridges spanning coastal rivers. “What constitutes art? That’s been part of the fun,” says Moehrke. An unknown sculpture probably makes the cut, she says; a random buoy or anchor on display, probably not. “We’ve decided to focus on pieces that were created with artful intent,” she says.

On the south coast, Stacey Reynolds is already tapped into the arts scene in Brookings, where she and her husband Spencer own the Semi Aquatic Gallery. Elsewhere in her region, she begins her scouting by figuring out “who has their finger on the pulse of the local creative community. Not everything is documented, so it’s really helpful to talk with local artists and local businesses,” she says.

In turn, Reynolds hopes the art trail shines a light on what these communities have to offer and draws in visitors who will support them. “Visitors easily discover our natural beauty,” she says. “But they don’t necessarily see each community’s unique beauty of people, history and culture. Art can be the vehicle for bringing that forth.”

By Tina Lassen