Old Art Ordinance Presents New Thorn For City’s Artists

The City of Atlanta recently began enforcing a mural ordinance, calling on local artists and business owners to get their works of art that are displayed on private owned property – not work on city buildings or in parks — approved by the city, or risk citation or their erasure.
Per the ordinance, future public art will also have to undergo a cumbersome approval process, including getting a greenlight from the Office of Transportation, the Urban Design Commission, the Office of Cultural Affairs, City Council and the mayor. Artists who don’t comply with the approval process may face criminal prosecution.
A group of other artists and business owners sued the city in response. The complaint contends that the ordinance is unconstitutional, and violates the plaintiffs’ freedom of speech and expression. “[City officials will be] picking and choosing what kinds of topics can occur in the public sphere and public debate,” said Gerry Weber, Atlanta-based an attorney who filed on behalf of the artists, says, “and governments aren’t supposed to do that.”
In fact, after consulting with various arts organizations across the country that regulate art on private property, Weber concluded that “almost all the cities have regulations about art on public property, public sponsorship of art, that kind of thing, which makes total sense. But the regulation of art on private property? Other cities don’t do it.”
According to the suit, the criteria “are vague, overbroad, and convey standardless discretion to numerous officials.” Additionally, no parameters, to date, exist which govern the approval timeline for artists.
While the context and circumstances surrounding the city’s renewed interest in enforcing its public art ordinance is unclear, since it’s occurring four months after Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed proposed a dedicated funding stream to help local artists. A city spokesperson said: “The City is currently negotiating with the plaintiffs in this dispute to resolve the matter in a manner that is favorable to all … the City recognizes the importance of public art and artistic expression. The City has no plans to remove any existing art work on June 9 or on any other date.”


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