Detroit artist takes legal action to save mural from development

Art City Terrain Development Midwest
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Katherine Craig’s Illuminated Mural is in danger of destruction as developers plan to transforms the 100 year old Albert Kahn building it is painted on. (BB and HH/Flickr)

Detroit muralist Katherine Craig (a.k.a. Exactly Hitops) is taking legal action in federal court to protect one of her vanguard works, as the owner the artwork’s building plans for development.

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(BB and HH/Flickr)

Painted in 2009, The Illuminated Mural at 2937 East Grand Boulevard in Detroit’s Milwaukee Junction neighborhood has been an icon of the North End’s burgeoning art scene. The nine-story tall “bleeding rainbow,” as it is often referred, was painted with the support of a Community + Public Art: Detroit grant from the College for Creative Studies.

As one might guess, the mural was executed by pouring over 100 gallons of colorful paint down the side of the 125-foot-tall building. In hopes of saving the mural from destruction Craig has filed suit in the U.S. Circuit Court, citing the Visual Artist Rights Act of 1990 (VARA), a federal copyright act specifically passed to protect visual artists, including muralist.

This would not be the first time that VARA has been invoked regarding murals being destroyed by building owners. After his six-story tall mural of Ed Ruscha was painted over on a Los Angeles public building in 2006, artist Kent Twitchell sued the federal government, ultimately winning $1.1 million.

The potential developer, Princeton Enterprises, a Michigan-based property management and construction firm, bought the building in mid-2015 with plans to sell or develop the site. Located near the College for Creative Studies, the building has recently been used as artist studios, one of which was used by Craig while she completed the mural.

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Albert Kahn’s iconic Art Deco Fisher Building was recently sold and is planned to be redeveloped. (Beyond My Ken/Wikimedia Commons)

The 1913 building was designed by the eminent Detroit industrial architect Albert Kahn, designer of the Packard Motor Car Factory and the multiple factories for Henry Ford, for the Detroit Storage Company. Predating his famed 1928 Fisher Building, 2937 East Grand is an example of Kahn’s early Art Deco style.

Interest in the building and the area has grown since the painting of the mural. With the neighboring Midtown booming with new commerce, and the future M-1 Rail passing from the North End to the Downtown, the area is primed for future development.

Either way Craig’s lawsuit plays out, it will mean a new precedent for artist-developer relationships as former art communities in urban centers become desirable real estate.

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