Paint Memphis: Mural moratorium sends wrong message

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The leader of Paint Memphis is responding to the recent City Council decision to place a moratorium on public art.

Karen Golightly says that it's good the city is taking a step back before accidentally painting over any other murals, but that it sends a bigger message.

"I do think it really speaks volumes and sends a message to the city that we don't value art here and especially we don't value art unless it is systemized and approved, the city approved," Golightly said.

City officials Tuesday decided to place a 120-day moratorium on new contracts for public art in the city after some neighbors complained they didn't like the public art painted on a city railroad underpass and adjacent private buildings.

Council Chairman Berlin Boyd has already noted that the administration has made a mistake by painting over several panels near Lamar and Willett.

"I’m not against public art, but I am sensitive when scenes are painted in communities in which most people wouldn’t want those scenes painted in their neighborhood," Boyd said.

He hopes the resolution he is working on will put in place guidelines for painting on public property.

Golightly says that for artists, that leaves no room for creativity.

"In order to have artists to vet the design and then a committee sort of makes that 'vanilla-ized' so that it is approved by certain people who are on those committees," Golightly said.

That forces artists to do the prescribed piece than their own content, Golightly says.

Golightly says that although the communities may have had divided opinion on the murals, they are unified in their feelings about the censorship.

"Almost everyone has been upset that the art would be painted over by the city who sort of made that decision, even the accidental ones," Golightly said.

She felt that the city was singling them out. She thinks it's because they have done something that no other art organization has done in this city with the least amount of funding.

Yet, Golightly said she recognizes that there still is room for improvement and that Paint Memphis can still learn a lot from other art organizations in the city.

Paint Memphis is considering solely working with private properties in the future.

Despite the way it's happened, Golightly is happy about one thing:

"People are talking about art more than they ever have," Golightly said.