This mural in southwest Atlanta has caused a major controversy. On one hand, the local former councilperson, Doug Dean, got together with members of the local community and erased a mural without going through any of the proper channels. As activists for mural protections, we advocate for the protection of murals and invoke the federal VARA act that requires that the artist be notified and compensated for any damages done her/his artwork. Its a bold statement when a former legislator breaks the law to remove the mural. Apparently, there was a petition drive to save the mural that was ignored by the residents who took matters into their own hands to paint it out.

We have to look at the other side of the coin in this situation as well. Its pretty clear that this piece was really disconnected from the community that it was placed in. It was painted by a French artist and arranged as part of the Living Walls Conference. Living Walls is akin to a “street art” version of the Meeting of Styles. Artists from all over are invited to paint large walls. Its a great networking opportunity for artists, collectors, and fans. However, often times, the community is overlooked in both invitation and consultation when its comes to these murals in the community. And because the trend in street art has been “art for arts sake.” none of the artwork is tailored to history or demographics of the neighborhood. And because, generally there are more run-down building in poor communities of color, their walls are targeted for artwork, with little to no engagement with the local residents. These street art “conferences” can easily turn into a massive wave of gentrification for a neighborhood in a little as a week.

We have to watch out for the double standards here. Pittsburgh has been poor, black community since in the 1880s that was on the verge of development and gentrification until the Great Recession began in 2008. It seems apparent that this is a tight knit community. When the local residents did not get traction quick enough, they took matters into their own hands! CRP has to respect that. We’ve been advocating for communities to take local control over their blighted walls for many years. We don’t support the buff but we appreciate the local community being pro-active. The next logical step would be for a local artist from Pittsburgh to create a new piece that reflects the neighborhood more clearly. What doesn’t need to happen is that this wall stay blank. This is the opportunity for a powerful dialogue and we hope something creative comes out of it.

Roti’s Living Walls mural in southwest Atlanta painted over by community members without a permit

Petition calling for preservation of mural along University Avenue garnered more than 1,000 signatures
Petition calling for preservation of mural along University Avenue garnered more than 1,000 signatures
A Living Walls mural in southwest Atlanta that residents were petitioning to save from being painted over has been covered with gray rolling paint by upset community members, including a former state lawmaker.

State Rep. Ralph Long, D-Sylvan Hills, tells CL that he visited University Avenue after he saw a Facebook photo of the mural, which was painted by French artist Pierre Roti as part of Living Walls Concepts, being buffed over with roller paint by community members.

Former state Rep. Doug Dean, who lives in the nearby Pittsburgh neighborhood, was among them. When Long approached Dean and the others, he says the group claimed to not have any permits to paint over the mural, which is located on a retaining wall owned by the DOT.

Dean tells CL that he and the others painted over the wall because the community was not consulted about the mural, which depicts a creature with a man’s body and an alligator’s head.

However, Living Walls did consult with and get permission from Atlanta City Councilwoman Cleta Winslow, who represents the area. Surrounding community members had recently expressed concerns over the work and pushed to get it removed, which has sparked a petition by mural supporters.

“It is so wrong for them to get peititons from people who live in Capitol View and Sylvan Hills and not come to Pittsburgh and talk to us,” he tells CL. “All we want is a process for how to deal with artists who come to our neighborhood and doing what they want to do. We have some art we want to do in our community.”

It’s the second time a piece associated with Living Walls has been painted over — or to be more blunt, vandalized — by people who disagree with the work. This summer, some residents of Chosewood Park and Benteen Park were angered by a mural painted by Hyuro depicting a woman morphing into a wolf. The art was ultimately painted over after someone vandalized the piece.

More details to come.

UPDATE, 12:22 p.m. Interesting. Apparently a Facebook event page was created to vandalize the wall?

UPDATE, 2:45 p.m.: Mural supporters and the Georgia Department of Transportation picked up buckets of soap and water and brushes and are scrubbing the gray paint off the mural.

There is some dispute over whether the property owner or GDOT owns the retaining wall. We’re trying to learn more.

Here’s a video by state Rep. Ralph Long, D-Sylvan Hills, featuring Doug Dean, a former state lawmaker and Pittsburgh resident who helped paint over the mural, talking about why community members vandalized the wall.

UPDATE 4:46 p.m.: An APD spokesman tells CL:

A report for the incident involving the mural was written, however, it isn’t ready for release. An employee of Living Walls Atlanta called police when community members painted over a mural at 272 University Dr. It appears that members of the community painted over the mural because they objected to its content. The community member reported to police that he was given permission to paint over it. Both parties agreed to bring the matter to the community board and city permit department for resolution.