Painting the Town Red

Melanie Gold came up with an idea for an art project in Greenwood Lake, New York. She wanted to create a mural on a white barn at the entrance to the town.

She overcame the financial obstacles by obtaining a grant from the 2010 County of Orange Arts Grant Program, and seeking additional funding from Kickstarter. She overcame creative obstacles by turning the project into a contest, and seeking submissions from local artists. She thought there would be no legal obstacles. There was never any intention to put up offensive art. Furthermore, Gold was told by local officials that no ordinances would prevent her from putting up a mural on private property.

But when she presented her idea to the community, the Village Board put a halt to her project. As an obstacle, the Board passed Local Law No. 2 of 2010: “The creation and or display within the Village of Greenwood Lake of public art is prohibited.” It will expire, on May 1st. Unfortunately this is the same day that her grant ends.

What to do with public space is always a sensitive issue, and public art presents many challenges. As the New York Times reports, “Board members concluded that a board including professional artists and experts was needed to review artwork in a community not exactly awash in it.” Most sensitivities arise over offensive art being placed in the public forum. In 1934, Rockefeller famously destroyed Diego Rivera’s mural at the Rockefeller Center for being too political. Last year, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art censored a street artist’s commissioned mural for being offensive. Public Ad Campaign goes so far as to use acts of civil disobedience to ‘reclaim’ public space by painting over advertising. A local community art project, however, seems unlikely to offend. Indeed, Gold’s use of the mural space as a gallery wall was critically “well-received.”

Facing fines and the prospect of having the works torn down, Gold has filed suit in federal court, claiming that the town has violated her right to freedom of speech and has placed an unconstitutionally broad prohibition on freedom of expression.

Read the article at the New York Times

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