The Tualatin River is a tributary of the Willamette River, rising near Gaston and running through Cornelius, Hillsboro, King City, Tigard, Durham, Tualatin and West Linn. It’s also the source of water for Oswego Lake.
“A lot of people aren’t even aware that the Tualatin River is the river that goes through Washington County,” said Mike Skuja, the outgoing executive director at the nonprofit Tualatin Riverkeepers.
Through several education and restoration programs, Tualatin Riverkeepers promotes taking care of the Tualatin River and the surrounding land that drains into it.
The [stormwater mural] project recognizes that historically marginalized communities are often most affected by flooding and other effects of climate change. Drawing attention to what goes down a drain by tying it to a special place strengthens this project’s environmental message, according to project organizers.
Skuja said his group sees a need to include more diverse voices to support its mission as greater Portland becomes more diverse. In recent years, Tualatin Riverkeepers has pushed “to broaden our scope of whom we engage,” Skuja said.
Tualatin Riverkeepers, in partnership with Centro Cultural de Washington County and Muslim Educational Trust, is one of six recipients for Metro’s pilot community placemaking grant program.
With this grant, the groups will create two stormwater murals that will raise awareness about the Tualatin River while celebrating the artistic and cultural heritages of the Latino and Muslim communities in Washington County.
Fusing identity and values
Stormwater notices typically communicate a straightforward message: whatever goes down this drain ends up in our river and streams.
Project organizers wants these murals to share a more compelling message than that – a message with cultural significance to the growing Latino and Muslim communities in Washington County.
Tualatin Riverkeepers hopes these murals will strengthen their ties to the Tualatin River and foster a sense of place. Skuja hopes the payoff from those connections will benefit the surrounding natural areas and everyone who lives in these communities.
Centro Cultural and the trust will take the lead on managing the stormwater mural projects. They’ll each commission an artist to create the murals, with guidance from Tualatin Riverkeepers.
“I love how we’ll be able to create artistic expression in a public space, somewhere on the west end that reflects culture and identity, and of course, laces it with such strong Oregon values,” said Juan Carlos Gonzalez, the development director at Centro Cultural.
The groups are still scouting locations for the two murals. They’ll likely pick Hillsboro or Cornelius for the mural in Spanish and English, and Tigard for the one in Arabic, English and possibly Somali.
“What attracted us most was that we’d be using different languages in that mural,” said Rania Ayoub, the director of public relations for the Muslim Educational Trust. “There are so many languages in the Muslim world. We really wanted to incorporate Somali, as well,” to reflect people living in the area.
A mural in Spanish and English will be a welcome change in Cornelius or Hillsboro, said Gonzalez, who sees a disconnect between existing art in the community and the people who live there.
“I think that there’s an overwhelming lack of public art that reflects the value of the diverse communities that live in them,” Gonzalez said. “Some of the favorite places that I’ve visited in the country have had amazing cultural art districts that are specific to the communities that have historically lived there.
“For Cornelius or this part of Hillsboro to get a mural like that would be amazing. This is our home,” he said.
The groups are still searching for artists to help conceptualize what the murals will look like. But Skuja hopes the murals will fuse immigrant identity with different cultural views about nature.
“We’ll be encouraging the artists, whether they’re from Bolivia or Somalia, [from] some water-stressed regions if they want to incorporate part of their own personal journey here to Oregon, and what was water like over there,” Skuja said, “and then what do they think about water here in Oregon.”
“I think it’s a really great equity lens to incorporate the kind of indigenous cultural knowledge and values behind sustainability and water,” Gonzalez said. “Those stories aren’t told enough, and because of that, aren’t recognized.”
The project recognizes that historically marginalized communities are often most affected by flooding and other effects of climate change. Gonzalez said drawing attention to what goes down a drain by tying it to a special place strengthens this project’s environmental message.
“Communities of color do care about recycling and about being smart with waste and water and nature and the environment,” Gonzalez said. “This project for us is an opportunity to incorporate people in a placemaking project on artistic expression, but also continue to educate people as to the things that we put in the water go into the river and they come back through our faucets and is what we drink.”
Tualatin Riverkeepers has partnered with Centro Cultural and MET in recent years. In 2015, Tualatin Riverkeepers took Gonzalez and other members at Centro on a paddle trip downriver during its annual Discovery Day event on the river.
Then last year Tualatin Riverkeepers teamed up with Centro Cultural and MET to promote an Urban Forestry Jobs program, which Metro funded through a $30,000 grant.
Edgar Sanchez Fausto, a sophomore studying environmental engineering at Pacific University, was one of the students that graduated from the program.
“I’ve partnered with Tualatin National Wildlife Refuge and their staff to help them institute one of their newest wildlife refuges in Gaston: the Wapato Lake National Wildlife Refuge,” Sanchez Fausto said. “It definitely was beneficial. I didn’t know much about urban forestry. This was really helpful to develop my knowledge in this area.”
With this stormwater mural project, Tualatin Riverkeepers is renewing its commitment to Centro Cultural and MET and continuing its work to lift up historically marginalized communities across Washington County.
“It’s so interesting because the work that Tualatin Riverkeepers does is so different from ours,” Gonzalez said. “We don’t work on a river. Our scope of services is different. But the fact that we can come together and find that intersection to make it work is just brilliant.”
Visit our Community Placemaking grantees page.
Metro’s investments, such as these placemaking grants, are strategically focused to help local communities create or sustain the vibrant places envisioned in the Region’s 2040 Growth Concept.
The work of the Community Placemaking grant recipients aligns with Metro's strategic plan to advance racial equity, diversity and inclusion.
Read the strategic plan: