City paints over part of ‘offensive’ Midtown murals

(Paint Memphis)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The controversy continues over a mural in Midtown Memphis — but this time it’s about what’s been covered up.

City crews painted over several of the more than 100 panels in a giant work by Paint Memphis on a Willett Street underpass near Lamar Avenue.

It was apparently done at the request of a City Council member who found the murals offensive, but none of the panels she specifically cited were the ones that were painted over.

The city says it was a mistake, the result of a “miscommunication.”

Mayor Jim Strickland’s staff responded to Paint Memphis director Karen Golightly on Facebook.

“This is a City Council initiative to remove several murals at the Willett street underpass. There has been a miscommunication with the crews executing the work who did more than was requested. This was not intentional,” Strickland said, citing Public Works Director Robert Knecht as the source.

According to emails between City Council staff and Knecht, council member Jamita Swearengen identified several of the panels that she wanted removed and that list was forwarded on Public Works. In a council meeting in January, several council members called the murals “demonic.”

“When permission was granted to Paint … Memphis to paint these murals the city has reserved the right to remove any offensive or objectionable murals at its own discretion,” Knecht wrote in an email to Golightly.

But the panels identified by Swearengen were not the ones that crews painted over, and Golightly said she hadn’t been informed that any of them would be removed.

The mural was painted in about a week by volunteer artists last September. While much of it is on privately-owned warehouse buildings on Lamar, some of it is on a city-owned railroad underpass on Willett Street. The mural straddles the border between the Rozelle-Annesdale and Central Gardens neighborhoods.

Golightly said the art was worth $35,000 and  was done by artists from all over the world. It’s impossible to replace, she said.

Here is what the mural looked like before the paint-over:

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