The Medford Arts Commission is exploring ways to launch a mural program to help beautify the city.

The Medford Arts Commission is exploring ways to launch a mural program to help beautify the city.

The commission meets at 5:30 p.m. today for a study session to discuss how to keep the mural program separate from the city's sign ordinance.

"Under law there is no way to treat a mural any other way than a sign," said George Kramer, an Ashland-based history preservation consultant who has been advising the commission on the mural program. "There has to be a public art process separate from the sign ordinance."

Medford City Council has already given the arts commission authority to create a public arts program, Kramer said. The commission can pass a policy to establish a program and approve a public process for screening mural proposals, he said.

The inclusion of murals in the Portland city sign ordinance spurred a First Amendment lawsuit in 1998 by Clear Channel. The communications giant claimed that to regulate the content of murals differently from billboards, both considered signs under city code, was a violation of the company's freedom of speech.

"That was a cautionary tale about why you need to cleave public art from the sign code," Kramer said. "That's what other cities are looking to do to allow murals."

The art could be on private property.

"Public art means the public gets to have a voice in choosing that," Kramer said.

Kip Grant, of the arts commission, said any approval process would involve both those proposing the mural and business owners who might be affected by it. She said the art would likely exclude political content, as to avoid opposition.

"The type of artwork, who is going to approve it and who is going to pay for it, that's what we are looking into," Grant said.

Property owners have expressed interest in a mural being painted on the blank wall facing Vogel Plaza, 200 E. Main St.

"We would encourage arts to be displayed all over town, particularly in Medford downtown, as long as it's appropriate," said Scott Henselman, whose family owns the building housing Edward Jones Investments and Cork's at Main and Central Avenue.

"I'm 100 percent for it," said Stephen McCandles, executive director of the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater, 23 S. Central. "I'd like to see a mural on that wall (in Vogel Plaza) as well as a raised stage area where people can perform and have lunch."

Arts commission members said it's unclear when a mural program might get off the ground or when murals might be in place.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.