Mural ordinance gets booted back to committee, '90-day commission' proposed to craft new policy

'No other city in the country does this'


And now for a bit of non-election news.

Atlanta's long-running debate over whether city officials should be allowed to regulate art on public property will apparently continue.

Yesterday, strong pushback from the local arts community and supporters, constitutional lawyers, and even some elected officials helped stop Atlanta City Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd's measure that would have required commercial property owners to seek city approval before painting murals on exterior walls. The legislation, a revised version of the controversial bill that Sheperd proposed earlier this year, blindsided the arts community and has been called unconstitutional by attorneys.

Councilmembers at Monday’s full Council meeting voted to send back the measure to committee for additional vetting. Councilwoman Cleta Winslow, who questioned whether permit scofflaws would respect any new process, was the lone no vote.

Sheperd now wants to create a commission that would spend 90 days working with a range of groups to come up with a proposal that suits everyone. Those groups could feature officials from the Savannah College of Art and Design, city departments, community leaders, and faith leaders. It would also include arts groups, including a representative from Living Walls.

"All these entities could come together to look at legislation, best practices across the country... as opposed to having a huge argument," Sheperd said.

Prior to Council tapping the brakes on the proposal, local artists and arts supporters told Council to reconsider the ordinance and its potential impact on the city’s public art movement.

Local artist Peter Ferrari said the ordinance would create “bureaucratic obstacles" for artists and property owners. "Communities will be ones that suffer,” he said. “Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater and continue to support a thriving arts scene."

Constitutional lawyer Gerry Weber, who last week told CL he would sue the city if the ordinance was approved, warned the policymakers that they were venturing into uncharted territory.

"No other city in the country does this," he said during public comment. "Indeed, almost every city in the country does not regulate art on a person's own property at all."

But several residents of Pittsburgh and Chosewood Park, where some residents butted heads with Living Walls organizers in recent years over two murals’ content, told councilmembers that communities needed more input on murals, regardless if they’re on private property. Doug Dean, a former state representative who helped paint over the Pittsburgh mural, promised they'd continue to push for the ordinance.

There will never be another time that they disrespect our community," Dean said. "Ninety percent of the speakers are saying absolutely nothing about letting community have input about the kind of art that comes into our neighborhood."