Sign or art? City cites camera shop for new mural
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.
"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."