DOWNTOWN – A proposal to create a registry of Chicago murals failed to advance Thursday, after aldermen agreed the plan designed to prevent graffiti-removal crews from wiping them out could backfire.
Authored by 2nd Ward Ald. Brian Hopkins, the proposal would direct the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events to create a citywide registry of murals — and requires the Department of Streets and Sanitation to check that list before painting over or blasting them away after a complaint.
The proposal came after a taxpayer-funded mural by artist JC Rivera was painted over by city crews just days after it was finished near the Paulina Brown Line stop.
“It is a matter of pride that Chicago has the nation’s foremost graffiti removal crews,” Hopkins said at Thursday’s meeting of the City Council’s Zoning Committee. “We don’t want to change that.”
Three commissioned murals have been removed in recent months by crews responding to complaints — “honest mistakes” that “brought to light the need for a registry,” Hopkins said, adding that he was spurred to act in part by the “extreme” media coverage the mural removals received.
Graffiti-removal crews have removed four high-profile works of art in recent months, including Sandra Antongiorgi and Marcus Akinlana’s “Es Tiempo de Recordar” in Hermosa; an early Hebru Brantley mural in Wicker Park; French street artist Blek le Rat’s work on Cards Against Humanity’s headquarters on the North Side and most recently Rivera’s Lakeview mural near the Paulina station on the CTA Brown Line.
The registry is designed to reassure crews that they are doing the right thing in removing the paint in question, said Hopkins, whose ward includes Cards Against Humanity’s headquarters.
“The crews felt terrible,” Hopkins said. “The decision should not be placed on their shoulders.”
In addition, Hopkins said he would work with Cultural Affairs to create a “durable symbol or plaque” that would mark a mural as a registered and permitted piece of art to serve as another warning to crews to leave it alone.
Department of Streets and Sanitation Deputy Commissioner Cole Stallard apologized to aldermen for the crews’ actions.
“We are learning from this mistake,” Stallard said, adding that ward superintendents have been asked to familiarize themselves with permitted works of street and graffiti-removal crews will be assigned to work the same area as often as possible to avoid mistakes.
Ald. Danny Solis (25th) called the removal of the works of art “a tragedy,” and Ald. James Cappleman (46th) said it was long past time for a registry.
However, aldermen ultimately agreed with Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) that the proposal could create a backlog of graffiti-removal requests if crews are required to check with cultural affairs officials every time they get a complaint.
Lopez said crews should be proud that out of the nearly 80,000 complaints, only a few errors were made.
“This could turn things in the wrong direction and hurt neighborhoods like mine that are struggling with graffiti,” Lopez said. “Anything that could complicate the process of removing graffiti gives me pause.”
In addition, Lopez said he was concerned that the proposal would prevent gang symbols from being removed.
“What if I’m just an artist that just enjoys drawing crowns and pitchforks?” Lopez asked.
After Hopkins acknowledged that the current proposal could “pose a burden” for crews, aldermen agreed to table the proposal, which could resurface at the next meeting of the Zoning Committee set for Sept. 19.