Montgomery Plaza is getting a new look thanks to the PSU COMMA artist collective, staff from the offices of Planning & Sustainability and Transportation & Parking Services, PSU’s Creative Placemaking pilot project, the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) and City Repair. More than 60 volunteers will be coming together—while socially distanced—to paint a giant student-designed mural on Montgomery Street. This is part of a long term plan to grow the plaza as a pedestrian-friendly community space.
“This newest effort is really another kickoff of that space...to welcome the PSU community back to this part of campus and this part of downtown and to create some energy in the community and excitement at PSU,” says Liz Hoekstra, Senior Campus Planner with PSU. “We want campus to feel welcoming, inclusive and safe for everyone.”
That is the aim of the Creative Placemaking pilot project, which is a partnership between the College of Urban and Public Affairs and Planning and Sustainability, which Hoekstra is co-directing with Dr. Ellen Shoshkes, of the Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning.
The segment of Montgomery Street between Southwest 6th Ave. and Broadway has been closed to traffic since March 2019 and had become a vibrant event and informal meeting space, complete with furniture and lighting, with the launch of the Montgomery Street Pop-Up Plaza in May 2019.
As part of the 2019 Pop Up Plaza, volunteers painted the street with a design by student Sadie Jordan, but the street had to be repaved when an underground pipe burst.
The new mural was designed by Nia Musiba, Naomi Likayi, Sonia Chavez, all student leaders with Comma, a group of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) students from PSU’s graphic design program. The trio coordinated their design over Zoom.
“The design concept was around the themes of connection and community, and I think that naturally worked for us because Naomi, Sonia and I all illustrate a lot of figurative things,” says Musiba. “And then we wanted to keep in mind the location as part of the green street plan and landed on this almost underwater, kind of whimsical thing. We wanted something fun and colorful.”
Musiba has been painting murals for two years and was featured on OPB’s Art Beat. This was her first time designing a mural on the ground and at this scale.
“The learning experience already has been incredible,” she says.
The mural project, including payment for the student artists, is being paid for by a sponsorship from PBOT’s Healthy Business Summer Plaza Activation pilot program. City Repair, a non-profit that organizes street painting and other civic placemaking projects, is assisting with logistics like laying out the grid for the mural and securing paint for the project. Four artists from City Repair will also be on site during the actual painting.
Volunteers will work in shifts on September 14 and 15 to complete the mural and will take COVID precautions including wearing masks and staying distanced.
Musiba is thrilled that her artwork will be there to meet students as they return to campus. “I really like murals because they don't belong to anyone; they’re for everyone to enjoy,” she says. “Just the thought that something that we worked on will be around for everyone is really exciting.”
After the mural is done, furniture will be returned to the space and the plaza will once again be home to public events. PSU students, staff, and faculty, as well as the surrounding community are encouraged to use the space for both formal and informal gatherings and events. Stay tuned for news of events sponsored by the Creative Placemaking program this fall.
“I'm really hoping that people see Montgomery Street as a space for everyone, including the whole campus community as well as the people that live in the neighborhood,” says Hoekstra. “I'm excited to see what happens there.”