Art scene

Murals requests appear headed for review in Brooklyn

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This painting on a barn at 14776 U.S. 12, (west of M-50) by artist Bonus Saves mimics The Last Supper by artist Leonardo Da Vinci, and was painted June 22. Officials in Brooklyn are working on an ordinance that would allow them to approve or disapprove murals in the village in the future.

By Matt Schepeler

It looks like the village of Brooklyn will soon be requiring artists to obtain approval from the council as a whole before painting murals on buildings located in the village.

A proposed ordinance change requiring majority approval of the council stems from efforts by businessman and landlord Josh Mitoska to “paint the town,” something the ardent art-lover has been vigorously pursuing. Mitoska has brought artists into the community from around the state and even other countries to paint the back of several of his buildings inside and outside the village.

His latest effort is a rendition of “The Last Supper” painting by Bonus Saves on a barn Mitoska owns on U.S. 12.

Not everyone is a fan of the art, particularly the “skull bunnies” that are prominent in works done by artist Bonus Saves.

If the proposed ordinance is approved by the village, Mitoska or other property owners who wish to put up a mural inside the village would have to submit a sketch or sample of what they want painted before being allowed to go ahead with the project.

This would put village officials in the business of censorship, a role that council members appear willing to accept.

At least one village resident spoke in favor of the village harnessing more control over what goes up on village buildings.

Judy Blackburn said that she would describe the paintings on the back of village buildings as “railroad art.”

The Last Supper, skull-bunny style

The Last Supper, skull-bunny style

“I don’t find it appealing,” she said, adding that she and her husband, Paul, once went into a town with similar art on the buildings, and they would not stop.

“I just think you guys should be able to have a say of what is going to go on the side of our buildings,” she said.

“I think it is your job to make sure that our village is appealing to people passing through, so they maybe would want to stop and have an ice cream.”

The council seems to agree, though the possibility of censoring artists would be a role that council members likely did not know they were signing up for when deciding to run for office.

“I don’t want to say to the [owner of another building] ‘yes, we like your mural because it is a cherry tree, and we like cherry trees. But not tell Josh he cannot put something he designed on the same kind of a street because of whatever,” said trustee Stella Roberts.

“I don’t want to give Josh a reason to say, ‘well, you let this guy do it. You like him better than me.’’’

Trustee Phil Bliven said he did not mind taking on the role, but stressed that the council make sure they have a policy in place that cannot be manipulated.

“I don’t have a problem policing this, I really don’t, because I don’t want to see something get out of hand with it. I think it has to be policed, I just think we need to be careful how we do it.”

Exactly what offends people was also discussed. J.B. DeJeu said that he remembers a work called “Piss Christ” by Andres Serrano, “where a guy urinated in a bell jar and put a crucifix in it and they called it art.”

“There was a big uproar, and it was offensive to me, and a lot of people, but you know what? They still showed it. I don’t think that is going to happen, but, well, you never know…”

While council members appear to be in unity of taking on the responsibility of approving or disapproving murals in the future, they are still working on the mechanics of the proposal. They are considering forming a three-man advisory committee to make recommendations to the council, and are also considering having requests come directly to them.

Connie Douglas is in favor of having requests come directly to the council rather than through an advisory committee.

“There doesn’t have to be a committee,” she said.

No action was taken in the matter, but the council instructed manager Jae Geutschow to put together language to update the mural policy and bring it back to the council.

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15 Comments

  1. Josh Mitoska

    July 3, 2016 at 3:20 pm

    I encourage everybody to attend the July 11 Village council meeting and speak your mind on this possible new policy, there already is a mural ordinance in place and we follow those rules, no need to police it further. If we dont follow the existing ordinace, well thats why we have a code enforcement officer. Many of these artists do not have a plan for the space until they arrive, its not feasible to ask for sketches and outlines weeks before a project is to take place. You may not like these murals.. but you know what.. I don’t like rebel flags and hate speech, or the KKK but I vigorously defend those rights of everybody, not just those with the same beliefs as I do. Once you start telling people they cant fly their flag of choice, then you removed your own freedom from flying your flag of choice as well. And thanks again for the exponents continued fair coverage of these pieces. The more eyes that see them the better, we want people to travel to Brooklyn to see these, and they do, and they shop here, and have lunch etc.. Art brings people to an area. period.. Again, please come to the July 11th city council meeting at 6PM and speak during public comment against these new possible rules.

    • Joe Bertrand

      July 7, 2016 at 10:41 am

      Trustee Phil Bliven later said, “Sure, i mean, just put me in charge of anything and everything that definitely under no circumstances needs any further policing.”

      Phil said his previous experiences operating in a police state make him a perfect choice for being the sole arbiter in cases of “whether art should exist that has been privately commissioned or authorized”.

      I for one welcome our new fascist overlords and would like to know whether I can start sending decisions of personal importance directly to them, since the laws have not caught up with the times. I would like to float some names for my unborn child by Phil, to make sure that he doesn’t find any of the choices offensive. Also, I will soon be decorating my boat with some sweet flames on the side and need to know whether Phil would approve.

  2. Hayley Woodard

    July 3, 2016 at 3:33 pm

    Before the murals started appearing, I had visited Brooklyn a whole 3 times in my 26 years. In the past year I have been to Brooklyn more times than I can count to photograph and admire the artwork. While admiring the art, I have spent money countless times at local shops I would have never visited like Poppas Place, Shadys, JR’s resturant, and IDK creative decor, to name a few. Personally, If it was my city, I would be thrilled by the new commerce and opportunities that would come from popular artist displaying their work and bringing in new potential customers at no cost to the city.

  3. Emily

    July 3, 2016 at 4:19 pm

    That’s the thing about art. It is subjective. If there is already an ordinance in place and it is being followed, then in effect this council is just trying to impose its own personal tastes on an entire community.

    The community of Hastings has a public art program consisting of mostly sculpture. Some people don’t like some of the pieces and other people don’t like others. But the pieces are routinely changed and moved, and in the end there is something there that appeals to everyone. It sounds like this mural program is similar in that the paintings are changed regularly.

    Honestly it would seem to me that the council has much greater concerns than to get into the business of censorship. Aren’t there real issues within the actual realm of the council that they should be focusing on instead of their personal dislikes when it comes to public art? So small-minded! If Hastings can handle their sculpture program then Brooklyn should be able to handle their murals. In the end if nothing else it sparks a discussion about art, its value and its place in society. That has to be good for the students, citizens of and visitors to Brooklyn.

  4. Andrew Erdmans

    July 3, 2016 at 4:35 pm

    My wife and I have been hearing about these murals and were planning a trip to town next summer when we visit family in Michigan. A couple days ago I began hearing talk of politicians getting involved and possibly censoring them.

    We will not be visiting if that becomes the case.

    Let the business owner follow the laws already in place. The lady quoted in the article could not be further off base. If you want people stopping in your town for an ice cream then don’t censor the artists they are coming to see.

    Hopefully the locals will stand up to this proposal.

  5. Tomas

    July 3, 2016 at 4:39 pm

    These murals were actually what drew me to come to Brooklyn. I also am planning on returning again to photograph more of the murals in town. I think they should be embraced by the community. They show the town is vibrant and alive l. They also bring people in which also brings money to the town.

  6. Derek

    July 3, 2016 at 4:45 pm

    One of the major draws to the US12 Corridor for myself and many that I know that travel through that area (especially brooklyn/irish hills area) isn’t just to see the countryside. the unique artwork is becoming a draw and gives many a reason to get away from i94 and head down to US12 when heading across Michigan. The amazing talent that it takes to do a mural of that size is a major draws to me. And when I travel through the area, we stop and are patrons of businesses throughout. We tell our friends, and they too may choose to get away from i94 for a bit just to see some of the work. It’s kind of like the lesson in the movie cars in a way, the highway system has taken a lot of the traffic away and many “forget” what’s along the path. It’s projects like this that introduce the area to a new generation. Putting too many restrictions on the creative process will simply drive these talented artists to look at other communities to work with and those that travel for the art, will just find those communities to invest with in their travels instead.

  7. Jan Cramer

    July 3, 2016 at 6:43 pm

    The last thing you need to do is tighten the reigns on this process because if you do you won’t get many artists that want to work with your city. I would think that any place that wants to make their town more interesting would welcome a diverse appeal. Art evokes conversation and is an invitation to examine it and yourself. It is does not tell you what to think but gives you something to think about. By censoring the murals you are automatically limiting what the people of your town can ponder and To what they can be exposed. What your council considers acceptable public art will likely bring people in and is good for your local economy. Once they come it is your job as a council to make sure to give people of different interests something to do not to waste time trying to limit what people see.

    • Jan Cramer

      July 3, 2016 at 11:46 pm

      That should read: what your council considers good public art will represent a small viewpoint. Art brings people into your community which is good for your local economy. And I would like to add that some of the railroad or Railcar art is some of the best I’ve ever seen and putting this mural in this category is quite a compliment to the artist.

  8. Lisa Viger

    July 3, 2016 at 11:57 pm

    George Bernard Shaw said, “Censorship ends in logical completeness when nobody is allowed to read any books except the books that nobody reads.” If we censor things to the point where no one is offended in any way then all that’s left is something so bland and boring that it’s of interest to no one. Is that what we want for Brooklyn?

    I like that we have art in town … and censorship has never led to good things.

  9. Jonah

    July 4, 2016 at 3:09 am

    I don’t drive into small towns because of the ice cream, I don’t stop because the walls are uniform pastels that make me feel Rockwell safe. I stop when there is something to see, when I stop I might get hungry and get Ice Cream, I might check out that antique store, maybe see what else I’m missing out on. You will never win this game of censorship, someone will always claim offense, but this is also your chance to stand out, to be a welcoming community to artists. I would never think to stop there, but I drive to Ann Arbor or Detroit sometimes and I’m familiar with Bonus Saves work, I’d take the jog to see it in person, then see the rest of the town, the rest of the art.

  10. Rob Perkins

    July 5, 2016 at 11:55 am

    I live near Ann Arbor and other than twice-annual (race season) trips through Brooklyn, my wife and I found no reason to stop or shop downtown. Since the colorful murals have started popping up, we find ourselves looking for more and more reasons to visit Brooklyn off season to see what new pieces of art are being created. I am truly a fan.

  11. Nick

    July 5, 2016 at 1:07 pm

    I also have been drawn to the murals that are popping up in cities around the country. I’ve visited Detroit numerous times to see the art and Grand Rapids as well. Whenever I travel to a new town, murals are always what I look for. It’s a sign that the community is awake and active. I have been considering coming to Brooklyn to check out some of the walls as well (and probably spend some time heckling out shops and restaurants) but this article makes me rethink that. Murals would make me go out of my way to come to Brooklyn, censorship makes me stay away.

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