Sign or art? City cites camera shop for new mural

news-cameraSixteen students and two teachers from Tandem Friends School transformed the wall of Richmond Camera in late March. Now, the city is forcing the business to paint it gray once more.

3:0opm May 13 update: The city has reversed its position and will allow the mural to stay, according to Tandem teacher Eliza Martin, who expresses gratitude for a public outpouring of support. Neither Mayor Dave Norris nor city spokesperson Ric Barrick immediately returned the Hook's call for comment.

Original story:

"Art is what you can get away with," reads the Andy Warhol quote freshly painted on the side of Richmond Camera on High Street along with a Warhol-inspired mural of four cameras created by a group of students from Tandem Friends School in late March as part of a school project.

Alas, it seems Richmond Camera won't be getting away with this art after the city threatened the camera business with a $5,000 fine for violating an ordinance for entrance corridors. The store has until May 28 to restore the wall to a blank gray.

"I'm pretty upset about it," says Eliza Martin, one of two Tandem teachers who helped 16 students design and paint the mural as part of the school's "Emphasis Week," an annual tradition in which students and teachers take a week off from traditional studies to do community oriented projects.

Martin had selected a mural painting as the project she'd hoped to lead that week when Richmond Camera coincidentally contacted the school and asked if students there would like to beautify the store's exterior wall facing Meade Avenue.

"It was really exciting," says Martin. "The kids were really into it.

The store did not commission the work– instead, says Martin's colleague Jay Kuhlmann, who helped lead the mural project (and who has also done freelance photography for the Hook), "We submitted a couple proposals and eventually decided on this good-natured spoof of Andy Warhol’s silk screen designs from the 60s."

While community response has been positive, says Martin, the city was less than pleased with the unexpected artistic addition. According to city spokesperson Ric Barrick, that's because the store already had four signs– two more than is allowed on an entrance corridor– and did not seek permission from the planning commission before painting the mural.

A manager at the local Richmond Camera store referred a reporter to the corporate headquarters in Richmond, where a spokesperson also declined comment.

To Kuhlmann and Martin, news that the students' art– and hard work– will be erased is frustrating.

"I thought they did a really great, really professional job," says Martin. "They were thinking it's going to be there forever, it's in the public eye, that's part of the reason they did such a great job."

Barrick says the store can appeal the decision before the Board of Zoning Appeals, which could overrule the citation and allow the mural to stay.

Both Martin and Kuhlmann hope the store will appeal.

"Given the message, it’s more than a bit ironic that the city wants this taken down,"says Kuhlmann. "I guess if you can’t get away with it, it’s not art anyway."


Thanks for the "15 minutes", Andy.

Is this fine a one time thing? I'd throw a few of my hard earned dollars toward the fine to keep the mural up if there was a place to do such...

this is the same "city" that spent some ungodly amount of money to put unchangeable directories on the downtown mall. since they have went up at least 5 news business have come or are in the process of coming there & at least 3 have left, BRILLIANT!

Clearly, the slap heads in city hall sit on their taste buds.

Looks a lot better than a gray wall. I might just stop by the camera shop just because of this news and have them look at my twin lens Rolleiflex, thank you very much charlottesville!

Does the City really think the blank wall looks better??
And since when did a mural become a sign? Did C&R auto on west main have a sign permit for the mural that covered the side of their building? Doesn't the City own the concrete retaining wall at the base of the Belmont bridge thats always covered with graffiti murals? How about the "art in place" giant photo on Barracks @ bypass... sign permit? The giant sequoia photo that hung from the City's parking garage a summer or two ago... sign permit?

It does look very nice but the city has to enforce the law because the next mural elsewhere may not be so beautiful. Good luck with the appeal. It certainly should be allowed to stay.

I guess since the city didn't use a large sum of taxpayer's money it's considered a sign instead of art. It looks a whole lot better than some of the "sanctioned" metal rustworks one sees around town.

Isn't Charlottesville one of the top ten cities in America?

The funny part is that they (the city) waste their time on minutia (like this mural 'problem') and they totally disregard the actual problems (such as the lack of police presence during Friday's after 5 - those who go down there after 8 know exactly what I'm talking about).

Actual problems aside, murals like these give Charlottesville its uniqueness...don't take that away. It's not offensive. It's not obtrusive. These kids weren't out on the street selling drugs or starting fights - they were painting a mural...and because some bigshot in C-Ville cares more about a grey wall than the protection of its citizens we will now be living in a grey wall town with little police presence. Yay Charlottesville government.

Tandem Friends School, you rock with artistic talent! Awesome art. However this turns out, your art is incredible and don't ever let a myopic government, or city council, get you down. The government's job is always to make the worst decision, an they excel at the task. :)

Getting "arrested" for your art and getting in the papers for the arrest means: you got away with it. It's Art.

I drive past it weekly and it stands out less than some of the so called art that the city commissioned for the roadside. Would it be any different if it read Pepsi in the style from the 50's? Just because it is cameras on a camera store, nothing says Richmond camera. Upon further review of the picture I find it to be tasteful and well done. If the so called 'leaders', who happen to represent the taxpayers are so concerned with the look of the entrance corridor, side thought...when did Meade Ave become an entrance to the city, maybe they can do something about all of the car dealers that dot the landscape. Common sense people. Put it to a vote before you become dictators


The City of Charlottesville and Dave Norris have dropped the citation and saved our mural.

Thank you to city council for saving our mural.


wonderful outcome - right on!

I'm opposed the gray wall and prefer the art. What a silly city that puts art all over, but won't let this business put up something more tasteful than a gray wall. BTW, that junk you have over on Barracks Road just west of the bypass is horrendous! Oops, excuse me, it was approved by some board that pats themselves on the back for thinking they know what they are doing. I wonder if any lacrosse players are on city council that make the myopic decisions?

Glen, you took the words right out of my mouth...
Couldn't have put it any better.

Very happy about the outcome! Of course the mural should stay. But, something troubles me: why did the city allow a project like the downtown hotel to go ahead without having an iron-clad guarantee that it had to be finished in a timely fashion, otherwise punishable with a fine that accrues over time? Are any of the developers being held responsible for this defacement and the traffic obstruction on Water street?
The city getting so worked up over a mural while that skeleton hotel is looming over us, is like being fined for throwing a piece of paper out the window while oil companies have discretionary permission to throw the entire Gulf of Mexico ecosystem in jeopardy for generations to come.

BS on Cville Government

i think it looks better then some of the "art in place" stuff this city allows else where. didn't they just try to fine an unemployed person for a satelite dish? there is so many important things to be handled. what a waste of time with this fine work of honest art.

shame on you Charlottesville!!!!!!

Looks like the kids got a civics lesson in addition to their art lesson.

The business owner should've known better.

Thank you to everyone who expressed support. It will mean everything to the students who donated their time and effort and immense talent to this mural.

Now, let's try to save it. If everyone would please call Mayor Dave Norris and request that this mural be approved immediately or turned into art in place we might be able to save it.

His phone number is 242-5165. Please take a minute or two to call and leave a message. We have the right to say what we want our town to be and what kind of art is allowed.

Again thanks for the support and thanks to Tandem for being such an amazing school with such talented and motivated students that we could pull off a mural that impresses the community.

Sorry Eliza,

Your mural (billboard? advertisement?) looks just fine, but the next one might not, and where would it all end?

My advice? Ask the good folks at Richmond Camera to take a picture of it for posterity, and then paint it gray.

For once, miraculously, everybody seems to be on the same page. I agree with everybody, except the last remark by 'durtburglar'. Maybe we need a little more spontaneity in this town to kick up some dust. All of us would definitely benefit from its pretty chill citizens being (dare I say it?) a little more daring. Remember, change doesn't only come after disasters.

Maybe if it was *Charlottsville* Camera, instead of Richmond Camera...

Seeing that ordinances mean nothing to most of you, I wonder if a porn store painted an "art" mural depicting their genre if you would have the same opinion. Being selective in regards to enforcement will open up a big can of worms.

The government should leave people alone. If he wants to paint the building pink its his building and his business.

The politicians in this town need to focus on the real problems, like drugs and thefts.

@ Eliza Martin -

I know I'm not the only one who thinks that maybe the camera shop should have checked with the city about laws and ordinances *before* investing all their time and energy into painting the side of the building. It's common sense. Whether people like it or not, the City has control over streets, right of way property and the appearances of businesses. There's a planning commission and Board of Architecture for a reason. Because things are regulated. I like the mural myself and wish that we could have more arty exteriors on buildings but I also realize that when you live in a city then you have to abide by the regulations. Were this your own private property located on your own private land, outside of the constraints of a homeowners association then sure, go ahead and paint murals on walls. But in the City you can't do that. Common sense. "Look before you leap."

I appreciate that regulations need to be followed. What I am hoping for this time is an exception. Or retro-actively have the mural approved as public art. No one hates an ugly mural more than me so I am not in favor of a free for all of art that has not been well planned. We came up with several proposals before richmond camera chose the one we ended up painting. I would have been happy to go through that with the city as well. I just didn't know it was necessary. Painting it over is a waste of time and energy. And clearly from all of these posts the general consensus is that it is a beautiful mural.
By the way, I would not think that a porn shop should create a mural depicting anything inappropriate. That is clearly not the issue here as our mural is very tasteful.

Taste, and "art," is subjective. That's the point.

Yes art is subjective but does that mean that we should not have it around or do you mean that we should have it regulated. I am not afraid of regulations I just dont want to have my students mural painted over. My only point about tasteful is that the mural we created was not offensive, had it been I would understand the need to remove it. Our only intention was to get people thinking about what art is.

Again, the bottom line is "look before you leap." People should have checked first *before* just doing this and investing all their time and energy. Who doesn't know that you can't just paint the outside of a business with a mural in the middle of the City? Again, common sense that there are regulations and ordinances. Because you didn't check first, you now want the city to make an exception. That's being childish. Nobody checked beforehand so now unfortunately you have to face the consequences. Paint it back over, and learn a lesson in the process. Next time you know to check first.

"By the way, I would not think that a porn shop should create a mural depicting anything inappropriate. That is clearly not the issue here as our mural is very tasteful."

The point is that if one exception is made in the name of art there will be more murals to follow that may not be tasteful or as well liked as this one.

The point is that if one exception is made in the name of art there will be more murals to follow that may not be tasteful or as well liked as this one.
Well, those types of murals wouldn't get initial approval or an exemption from the Board of Zoning Appeals, right?

Looks great, and it would be nice if the City let it stay, but boooo! and since are right - you gotta know the ordinance, for the reasons they specified. Sure, it looks better than "art in place" - but those guys followed the rules. Same thing happened with 12th Street Tap House (with their big "TAP HOUSE" "mural") - they didn't go to the planning commission, and they had to paint over their "mural". Also, this fine would have been imposed by a zoning inspector, not an elected politician. Dave Norris, City Council, etc. had nothing to do with this.

having lived in charlottesville proper for almost 6yrs now, i found the mural as a fresh sign of life. entering the city on that 'corridor' is often depressing and drab, the entire neighborhood needs a paint job and maybe even some more street trees or plantings, because we are a world reknown city yet have a nasty eastern corridor entrance. i say circulate a petion at the market next week and you'll get tons of supporters.

dave norris needs to wake up and make an exception


The City of Charlottesville and Dave Norris have dropped the citation and saved our mural.

Thank you to city council for saving our mural.

It's all about "the children" and sort of typical of city counsel. If schoolkids hadn't done the painting, the city would have been stonehearted about making them paint it over.
Nevertheless it's good for whatever reason that they backed off and allowed a nice piece of graphic art to remain in place.

I count myself among the enemies of zoning and codes enforcement in general. What's referred to as "Euclidean Zoning" has been responsible for much evil in the "post war" orgy of sprawl development and has made illegal the building of communities like Georgetown with mixed use of properties. People should be allowed to paint anything they want on a wall. After all, the city spent public monies to put up a chalkboard on the downtown mall where people are free to post all manner of offensive trash.

The article says Richmond Camera is on a "entrance corridor"?!! What the heck could that mean. Its in the middle of the urban area, not the entrance to anything.

Our political 'leaders' need to start working and stop intefering.

For those who seem to assume that the City has the authority to order the mural removed as a "sign" and for those who believe that it's Richmond Camera's and Tandem's fault for not checking on the applicable City ordinances before painting the mural, please consider the following definition from the Charlottesville Code:

"Sign means a structure, wall or other object, or portion thereof visible from the public right-of-way, used for the display of any information or message, including without limitation, any device, structure, fixture or placard using graphics, symbols and/or written copy; provided, however, that this definition shall not include works of art or temporary holiday decorations."

One would think that at the very least, a reasonable argument could be made that the mural was not a sign - but a work of art.

The City should be ashamed of itself.

Never should have been an issue in the first place.

I get so tired of city and county employees who go out "looking" for something just so they can justify and preserve their job and attractive benefits package.

nice work! thanks dave and city of cville, wise move

was the person who started this the same one that refused to plow the dead end street this winter?


take down one of the signs to satisfy the city. the city gov needs to pick the right fights.I am loosing faith in this group.

whatsgoinon: The answer is simple. Government are run by government workers.

I am sure it was some city employee with no common sense trying to enforce the rules as writtne instead of intended.

Just like the refusal to low snow on a technicality to people who had been paying property taxes on their culdesac.

Just like the satellite dish that is protected by federal law.

Jusyt like I am sure someone wil get sited for too tal of grass while the city does not cut theirs.

Or someone will get cited for snow removal while the city ignores theirs.

I LOVE THAT MURAL!!! (Why would anyone call it a sign?!)