Owners of commercial property should be able to have murals painted on their buildings without having to go through a lot of red tape. That was the consensus this morning of the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority board.

The group voted unanimously to support a letter submitted to them by Karen Seggerman, president of the nonprofit Arts on the Park, in response to a city proposal to add murals to the city’s public art ordinance.

Seggerman wrote the letter because the regulations scheduled to be considered by the City Commission next month will affect Arts on the Park’s plans to spend $60,000 commissioning murals around town. Her main points:

  • An ordinance seems unnecessary because there have been no problems with existing murals. “Owners will be very careful about what they allow on their buildings,” she wrote.
  • The proposal’s focus on procedures will result in “a very subjective process that will likely squelch the creative process.”
  • “If guidance is unavoidable, it may be more appropriate to establish some minimal criteria for internal review and leave violations to code enforcement rather than establishing a lengthy approval process.”

Just about every member of the LDDA board, which represents downtown property owners, said they favor “less regulation” when discussing the mural issue.

The strongest support for the proposal being pushed by the city’s administrative staff came from Don Selvage, the City Commission representative on the LDDA Board.

Selvage worried that without guidelines, some building owners might use their large, visible canvases to promote controversial or divisive causes. But he made the motion to support Seggerman’s letter because of her reference to establishing minimal criteria.

Others at the meeting cited existing murals — at Downtown Diner, The Mahoney Group building, Molly McHugh’s, Palace Pizza, the Studebaker Building, and both the old and new locations of KRaP Art — and said none have courted controversy.

Architect Marlon Lynn, attending the meeting as an observer, said as a downtown property owner, he would feel accountable to his clients, family, church and Rotary Club to present tasteful art. Others who invest in the community also “would not want to be offensive to people around them,” he said.

Jim Malless, a city commissioner, told the board that he and Seggerman, his spouse, became interested in murals when seeing what other cities — Indianapolis, Detroit, Pontiac, Ill., and Winter Haven — are doing with art on buildings to attract tourists and establish a cool vibe.

A public art ordinance can be useful to guide the kind of art displayed on public property, he said, but private owners should be able to express themselves freely. “If somebody puts up an objectionable mural, bring them to code enforcement board.”

Malless also said he felt the proposed ordinance and some  mural guidelines drafted in 2014 but not yet adopted are “overreaching.”

Among the draft guidelines:

  • Property owners will pay a $100 fee when submitting a mural proposal.
  • A public meeting notice and a sign at the mural site about the review meeting will be required.
  • Murals on the front of a building can’t cover more than 25 percent of the facade.
  • Applications must include a color rendering, list of materials, photo of the building, maintenance plan, project timeline and evidence of community support.

Draft guidelines:

City administrators, contacted for yesterday’s lkldnow.com article about the public art proposal, said the main purposes of the regulations and review committee would be to make sure durable materials are used and that murals don’t morph into commercial signs.

“The committee will allow for better, more thought-out murals in strategic locations,” Community Development Manager Nicole Travis said.

But some readers reacting to the article on Facebook were more concerned with perceived limits on artistic expression.

“If you love banality and want to mire yourself in more regulation please regulate the expression of individuals on private land,” architect Brad Lunz wrote.

Adam Justice, soon-to-depart curator of art at the Polk Museum of Art, started several wide-ranging conversations on Facebook when he supported a city-sanctioned review process as a way to encourage public art by shifting perceptions away from street art as a guerrilla art form.

Selvage predicted a lot more public discussion before the public art proposal is brought to the commission sometime next month. “The city commission is going to beat this one to death, so the input of this board is important,” he told fellow LDDA board members this morning.

Seggerman’s Arts on the Park letter:

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Barry Friedman founded Lkldnow.com in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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