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VOL. 133 | NO. 9 | Thursday, January 11, 2018

Lamar Avenue Mural Draws Council Contempt

By Bill Dries

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The state’s largest collaborative mural might be missing a few panels soon after a City Hall showdown Tuesday, Jan. 9, between the head of Paint Memphis and City Council members upset by the images on Lamar Avenue near Willett Street.

Negative reaction from nearby residents and City Council members to images on certain murals painted around Memphis may get them painted over. (Daily News File/Houston Cofield)

The discussion with Karen Golightly ended with council chairman Berlin Boyd starting an email to the city Public Works Division requesting the removal of several images council members say are graffiti.

“We need to do whatever we need to do to get rid of the skeleton with a bucket of candy – that’s offensive,” Boyd said of an image on a flood wall on Chelsea Avenue as well as some of the images on public and private space on Lamar. “We will have an email drafted by the end of the day. … We want to see those murals removed.”

Public Works director Robert Knecht said he will consider the request and if granted, his crews could paint over the murals in 30 days unless they are removed sooner by property owners.

But Golightly said the murals are not graffiti as described in state laws for the removal of graffiti. And she defended the images of zombies and skeletons.

“I also can’t really argue much about the subjective nature of art,” she said. “What some people will like other people will not.”

She urged those critical of the Lamar project to view the entire 33,000 square feet of images and not focus on one or two panels.

She also said there was community input, which Stoy Bailey, a long time neighborhood activist in the area, flatly denied.

“It’s a neighborhood,” he said. “It’s not a showcase for this kind of garbage.”

Council member Jamita Swearengen, whose council district includes the area, was also critical as she showed slides, including one critics have described as a large zombie on a building front.

KAREN GOLIGHTLY

“That’s on Lamar and that’s what the kids are looking at as they go to and from school,” Swearengen said. “There are two churches within maybe 50 feet of that mural. There’s a service station across the street where people pump gas. This is what we are looking at in our historic African-American neighborhood with a school down the street. This is Elvis Presley with a snake coming out of his mouth. Do they have that in Whitehaven? Do they have that around Graceland?”

Golightly said there are guidelines for the images.

“There are no pornographic, lewd, racist image or profanity. There’s no gang or drug imagery,” she said. “We really wanted to show the diversity not only of the people of the city but also the art and all of the different ways people can express themselves.”

But Boyd said residents in the area have complained loudly and often about the images that he argues can be interpreted as “your whole community is demonic or you guys are demons. Or the only thing that is going to come out of your community is death.”

“Words and images are power,” Boyd said. “We need to paint hope. We need to give inspiration to the community, not something negative.”

As that public art controversy swelled, an earlier controversy appeared to subside.

The council gave final approval Tuesday to new ground rules for the artists selected by the UrbanArt Commission for other public art projects. The changes in the ordinance came after council members said last year more local artists should be used and those living in communities where the art is planned should be consulted more.

The council withheld city funding critical to the UrbanArt Commission as the new rules were discussed and drafted.

The council is expected to vote in two weeks on a restoration of the city funding.

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