On April 9, from 6:30 to 8:00 PM at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, members of the art community are invited to address their concerns over the proposed ordinance with Camille Love, executive director of the Office of Cultural Affairs. There is also a public meeting with the zoning board on April 17 at 6:00 PM at City Hall, after which a recommendation will be made to the Atlanta City Council.
A proposed amendment to an Atlanta city ordinance governing public art has some members of the art community up in arms over what they say is governmental squelching of artistic freedom. The ordinance, put forward by City Council member Joyce Sheperd, seeks to regulate the installation of public art, especially murals, on private property. Regulations for such installations have been in place for years—mostly to ensure that advertisers don’t abuse the city restrictions on signage—but the proposed rule has thrust the issue into the spotlight.
The rule would require organizations to seek approval from Neighborhood Planning Units (NPUs), which is currently only a recommendation. A City Council informational session with the art community is being scheduled for mid-April. A previovusly announced meeting for April 1 has been postponed because a 15-day notice is required for a public hearing (stay tuned). The City Council won’t vote on the measure until May, after which the Mayor must sign it into law.
According to Camille Love, executive director of the Office of Cultural Affairs, the proposed legislation is largely a result of two incidents related to Living Walls, the nonprofit organization that has installed a hundred murals in Atlanta over the past four years. Love acknowledges that there are “loads of murals” that have been put up in neighborhoods that have not gone through official channels. She says that for months the OCA has been compiling a list of those murals, which the OCA will “forgive” and retroactively approve, including those put up by Living Walls in its first year.
The two incidents involved murals that were painted over—one following complaints by neighborhood residents, the other due to property ownership issues.
The first was a mural by Argentinian street artist Hyuro in the Chosewood Park neighborhood in southeast Atlanta. It depicted serial images of a woman growing and shedding a suit of body hair that turns into a wolf. Nearby residents objected to the nudity and what some perceived as demonic imagery.
According to Love, Living Walls submitted an application for the Hyuro piece that was approved, but it depicted a series of ladder back chairs, not nude figures. She says that it was the property owner who asked Living Walls to paint over the mural and that the city took no action.
Next was a work by French street artist Roti titled An Allegory of the Human City (2012) in the Pittsburgh in southwest Atlanta. In that case, ownership of the wall came into question. Love says that the person who granted permission was not the actual owner and that it was on Department of Transportation property.
Living Walls co-founder and executive director Mónica Campana explains that she resubmitted Hyuro’s revised design, which also received approval, and that the DOT wall had been built on private property. She was unclear about whether eminent domain may have changed its status. In addition to requiring approval from NPUs, the new ordinance would also mandate a notarized statement from the property owner that he or she is indeed the owner.
Love says, “All of us could do a better job” with the communities who will live with the artworks. The new ordinance also serves to centralize the approval process, which has been spread among three city agencies: Transportation, Urban Design, and the OCA. The OCA would usher applications through the process, which culminates in presentations to City Council. There are no fees involved.
The new ordinance obviously would not apply to “graffiti and gang writing,” say Love. The Krog Street Tunnel, for example, will not be targeted, though there may be some scrutiny of the tunnel’s exterior.
Any mural that appears without official approval subsequent to the new rule’s enactment would be subject to review, says Love. “The property owner will be asked to go through the application process,” she says, “it is their responsibility.” But, she emphasizes, “the OCA is in the make-it-happen business, not enforcement.”
Campana concedes that her organization was naive when it first started. “I learned about the city’s sign ordinance in 2012,” she says. She isn’t opposed to the ordinance but does feel that art organizations should be involved in drafting it, “especially the organization that is the most active in creating these murals.” (Read her statement to Creative Loafing.) She asserts that the new procedure will significantly prolong the application process—up to 30 days, she says—because of the City Council and NPU session schedules. Previously, “I was able to get all the certificates in less than a week.”
“When you want to do a big project, it’s about more than just showing the NPU your design,” says Campana. “We learned, go shake hands.”