Their issue is probably similar to Oregon’s in that the Oregon Constitution has an extremely broad definition of freedom of speech – so even signs cannot be reviewed for their content – just size.
Thankfully here in CA we don’t require folks to get permits for murals as long as they are not signs – that is, they cannot advertise a good, service or product with text, logos, emblems or symbols.
Here is info on how they worked it out in Portland:
Here in San Jose CA, we keep out of it. There are a number of fantastic murals on private buildings. The City’s Sign Ordinance very specifically designates what elements constitute a “sign” and those include certain types of text as well as commercial logos including those of popular sports franchises and such. Murals on private buildings can be great for so many reasons: the murals on buildings in San Francisco’s historic Mission District are iconic and clearly designate the cultural character of the neighborhood and placemakers; I believe the City may have contributed to continued conservation of these now approx. 40 year old murals.
We have a great number of murals on private buildings here in San Jose and they add wonderful flair and flavor to neighborhoods; they are often on small corner stores and restaurants as well as other types of businesses. We have several artist groups that are proactive in soliciting mural opportunities around town and there is considerable community interest in having more.
One significant issue that came up was a 40 year old mural on the side of a commercial building in a shopping center in one of our cultural neighborhoods. The mural meant a great deal to the community as it reflected important aspects of cultural history and also had been a project of an artist who had involved community members as a way of building self-esteem/community-esteem. Long story short, the property was sold and, in the dark of the night before the property title transferred to the new owner, the seller completely obliterated the mural with beige with no notice to the community even though the Councilmember had been negotiating for preservation of the mural for months. An uproar ensued and the issue is still being addressed. BUT… the central point of concern is that this was a complete violation of VARA and the property owner now has a $4 million law suit for failure to properly notify the artist. There have been VARA concerns come up about art on utility boxes as well.
The City of SJ has actually collaborated with a CBID in another SJ neighborhood to FUND murals on private buildings located along a popular, quaint historic corridor. We essentially made a grant to the CBID to commission the murals in collaboration with the property owners (it was a bit more intricate than that, but that is basically what happened). That has been enormously successful. I can explain the details of that.
Straight across from San Jose City Hall on a large 2 story wall adjacent to a gas station parking lot for many years was a prominent mural with specific religious iconography; it was a view as though looking from above down on Christ on the cross. As a City, we did not get involved with that and it stayed “as is” for quite a long time. There came a point in time where there was discussion with downtown stakeholder (possibly instigated by our very creatively motivated Downtown Association which itself has perpetrated quite a few murals on private property) about the condition of the mural and also its content. A new mural was agreed---upon so now it place of the old one is a mural feature the iconic image of the 1968 Olympic medalists John Carlos and Tommie Smith making their historic Black Power salute on the Olympic podium. That plays well here as both athletes trained here for that event while students at nearby San Jose State University where a major sculpture of that moment is located. So, that is aonther interesting variable on the issue of content of murals on private buildings.
Glad to answer any questions you may have about the above.
City of San José Office of Cultural Affairs
(408) 793-4339 or x34339
Hello, Public Art Network,
Our City is getting several requests from businesses to paint murals on their buildings, and we are fortunate to have the support of our City Arts and Culture Board as well as the City Planning and Permitting Dept. However, our legal department does not want to allow businesses to paint murals on their property because of some recent court cases involving freedom of speech. Legal does not want the City to be in a position where we would be regulating freedom of speech through artwork approval, so Legal is categorizing all murals as signage. And, of course, a mural does not follow our City’s design guidelines for signage, so they are not approved. Does this sound like a familiar situation to anyone, and if so, how has your City handled the legal and permitting process for privately owned/funded murals?
Thank you so much for your input!
Arts and Culture Coordinator
City of Georgetown
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