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Protecting The Illuminated Mural In The North End

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Photo courtesy Michelle and Chris Gerard

By Robin Runyan

One of Detroit's most recognizable murals faces an uncertain future, so the artist responsible for it is headed for a legal battle.

Artist Katherine Craig created The Illuminated Mural, at 2937 East Grand Boulevard, in 2009 when she received a Community + Public Arts grant from the College for Creative Studies. Completed on the side of a nine-story building with over 100 gallons of paint, the bright rainbow of colors draws many art lovers to the neighborhood.

The building was purchased in July by Princeton Enterprises LLC, a property management and construction firm out of Bloomfield Hills. The suit, as reported by Kriston Capps in CityLab, "seeks an injunction that would bar the developer from destroying or otherwise altering The Illuminated Mural—something that the developer intends to do in order to convert the building into lofts or apartments."

The suit cites Craig's rights under the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, which should protect visual artists.

According to Capps, "The Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) protects artworks of "recognized stature"— including murals—from destruction, whether "intentional or grossly negligent." If the federal court grants an injunction in Craig's case, it would prohibit the building's owner from knocking down the building or punching holes through the mural for windows. The injunction would further require Princeton Enterprises to notify potential buyers upfront about the mural's protected status."

This building, situated in an area between the Russell Industrial Center and the College for Creative Studies, is an ideal location for students and artists alike. Could that help her case?

This certainly offers a series of questions to consider in a city full of public art. How much say does an artist have over the art when they don't own the canvas? What is the lifespan of a mural? And could keeping the mural intact be an attractive feature for tenants looking to move into the building?
· Artist Sues to Save Her Landmark Detroit Mural [CityLab]
· Building with 'bleeding rainbow' mural in Milwaukee Junction up for auction ... for now [Crains]