Toppenish Mural Society Board Returns to Work After Difficult Year

Anyone wondering what’s been happening with the Toppenish Mural Society board of directors now has an answer.

After nearly one year away due to COVID-19, the board convened its first formal meeting of 2021 on Thursday, Feb. 19. Now, the group has more clarity about how to proceed as it tries to rebuild community interest in the city’s 32-year-old mural project.

“It’s been a pretty slow process, so we all felt like we needed to get back at it,” said Teri Martin, a board member for the past four years. “We’re all ready to start planning again.”

Martin was joined at the Feb. 19 meeting by board president Heidi Riojas, fellow board members Jeanette Ozuna, Janet Mayer and Jim Febus, and honorary board member Paul Newman, executive director of the Toppenish Chamber of Commerce. A handful of community members also attended the meeting, which was held virtually.

The board agreed that 2021 should be considered a year for rebuilding and restoration of the city’s existing 74 murals. If there’s enough interest and funding by 2022, the group will consider whether to bring back its popular June event. The annual Mural-In-A-Day last took place in 2018 — 2019 was a restoration year and last year’s event was canceled — and no one is sure what the future holds.

“Right now, we just need to build up our treasury through donations and memberships,” said Ozuna, a board member since 2012. “If we can focus this year on cleaning up the murals we have, then we can start working on bringing more tourists back to Toppenish next year.”

She explained that membership in the 501(c)(3) nonprofit has steadily declined over the past 15-20 years, once the novelty of the murals wore off for tourists and Lower Valley residents. Some of the original artists from 1989 have died and some are no longer painting. Still others have left the area, adding to the challenges for event organizers.

“We need to find that excitement again and bring in some new members,” Ozuna said. “Unfortunately, a lot of people in town take the murals for granted nowadays. If we want them to survive, we all need to work together to keep things going.”

The board discussed ways to build more interest, and agreed that it must improve its outreach efforts, including more regular use of social media and the continued presence of a newsletter. The Mural Society already has the support of community groups like the Lions Club, Rotary and Chamber of Commerce, but more help is needed.

“We’re all doing this because we want to carry on this important tradition for Toppenish,” Martin said. “The murals bring in tourism, but they also bring pride to a lot of people who live here. They really help unify this community.”

Volunteers will be needed this spring as the board identifies which murals require the most attention. Last year’s project was an upgrade of the mural at the American Hops Museum on South B Street.

Ozuna said the Mural Society typically receives help from Toppenish High School art students, and she’s hoping that will continue this year.

“We always love it when our high school students and alumni come by and help us paint,” she said. 

If you have questions about the Mural Society or would like to donate, email Ozuna at jeanetteozuna23@gmail.com.

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