Elgin council likes idea of murals on downtown businesses

  • This mural by artist Pamela Seatter is on a wall inside the Centre of Elgin's parking deck. It was added to the city of Elgin's public art collection in October through the city's "new works" program.

      This mural by artist Pamela Seatter is on a wall inside the Centre of Elgin's parking deck. It was added to the city of Elgin's public art collection in October through the city's "new works" program. Elena Ferrarin | Staff Photographer

  • The free-standing "Parade Mural" by the Outdoor Exhibition Group is on a pedestrian walkway between Spring and Grove avenues in downtown Elgin. It is owned by the city.

      The free-standing "Parade Mural" by the Outdoor Exhibition Group is on a pedestrian walkway between Spring and Grove avenues in downtown Elgin. It is owned by the city. Elena Ferrarin | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 4/10/2019 10:04 PM

Businesses in downtown Elgin will be able to have outdoor wall murals once new rules get final approval, which is expected later this month.

The change is part of the city's public art plan that is gradually being implemented after it was approved by the city council in 2017. The idea is to start with downtown businesses, monitor how things go, and possibly expand the allowance to downtown residential buildings and then buildings beyond downtown, Community Development Marc Mylott told the city council Wednesday night.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Council members gave the plan a unanimous "yes" in a preliminary vote. Councilwoman Tish Powell praised city staff members' work.

"I know that this has been a task to try to balance the needs of what's been expressed in our community and what the cultural arts commission has been trying to achieve, and balance some of the concerns, legal concerns and other concerns regarding signage and zoning," she said.

The new rules would limit one mural per zoning lot, which typically corresponds to one building. The mural could be located only on one wall of a building, or only one side of a structure, Mylott said.

The goal is to ensure murals are visual art and not public signage, he said. Murals would have to be hand-painted or handmade -- such as tile mosaics -- either directly onto the wall or affixed to it. Computer-generated or mechanically-produced images would not be allowed. Any text within a mural would be limited to three percent of the total mural area.

The planning and zoning commission recommended approval of the plan after a public hearing last month in which no residents voiced objections, said Amanda Harris, the city's cultural arts manager.

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Councilman Toby Shaw, who said he was "a little skeptical" of the plan but voted for it, asked whether the city would put restrictions on the content of the murals.

No obscenity would be allowed, but otherwise the content would be up to property owners, Mylott said.

Murals will require a sign permit from the city, which ensures Harris would be involved in the process and act as a "resource," Harris said. Ultimately, the city only has control over the content of its own public art murals, the ones it pays for, Mylott and Harris said.

A controversy erupted in 2016 when a city owned outdoor mural by artist David Powers turned out to be inspired by a 1930s lynching photo. The mural had been there for nine years and city officials said they didn't know of its inspiration. After public outcry, the city removed the mural, which has been in storage.

Powers, who was part of the Outdoor Exhibition Group, last year had asked the city to return the mural to him, and was told he should submit a formal application. That hasn't happened yet, Harris said. An organization in Milwaukee has expressed some interest in Powers' mural but there have been no concrete developments, she said.

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