Public art transforms look of former ‘meth store’

Discover how and why these two SE Portland artists are giving this former gas station and coffee shop an entirely new – and delightful – appearance …

A board member of the non-profit Cafe au Play – located at Tabor Commons – Charles Heying prepares the exterior for painting.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The building on SE Division Street, across from Atkinson Elementary School, that started out as a gas station 50 years ago, and ended up being  a coffee shop that was actually an illegal drug dispensary, is a step closer to becoming a community center.

The former “Drive-thru Wake-up and Deli” is getting an exterior makeover as part of its transformation into the Tabor Commons Community Center.

“When you drive past now, you’ll see a colorful design covering three walls of the building,” said Paul Leistner, a board member of the Southeast Uplift neighborhood coalition. “The public art is a combination of geometric elements with garden and bird motifs.”

Sees building as a canvas
The design was created by John Early and Laura Bender of Site Painters, a local firm that’s been doing murals and commissioned public artwork for 25 years. You’ve seen their work around town – at the former Nature’s Market on SE Division Street, for example.

“We live in the neighborhood, and have been following the progress of this project,” Early told us, while taking a brief break. “This nondescript little box of a building seemed like the perfect place for community art treatment.”

Grant funds local muralists
Early and Bender created a design, and then prepared a grant application to the Regional Arts and Culture Council’s neighborhood mural program.

“Thanks to the support of the community – and in-kind donations from companies like Powell Paint Company – we were awarded the grant. Volunteers prepared the exterior by sealing, sanding, and priming the surface.”

SE Portland residents, and professional mural painters, John Early and Laura Bender transform the former drug-dealing storefront into a work of public art.

Center to create a ‘sense of neighborhood’
“This is our neighborhood – we love this area,” smiled Bender, as the husband-and-wife duo mounted the scaffolding to continue their work. “I like the idea of helping to create art that promotes a sense of neighborhood.”

When they’ve completed their work, Early said, they’ll coat the exterior with an ultraviolet-shielding varnish that will also help fend off potential graffiti vandals.

Working to fulfill their goals
Leistner reminded us that the main goal for the project is to create a community gathering place. “One way the Tabor Commons is achieving this goal is through partnership with a local non-profit, Café au Play,” he said “They’ll create a family-and-community-friendly coffeehouse program to support children and families, by nurturing connections among caregivers and empowering people of all ages to see themselves as both givers and receivers of resources.”

Community members hope to finish the building and site renovation this winter.

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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