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Mural, artists draw eye of City Hall


The city is requiring the owner of Everyday Convenience Store at College Drive and East Eighth Avenue to go through the review process to determine the fate of a mural painted on a store wall by a group of street artists in town for a Durango Arts Center show earlier this month.

By Jim Haug Herald staff writer

Since a mural of hipsters, a cartoonish cat and a Native American Indian chief was sprayed by aerosol can onto the side of the Everyday Convenience Store on April 5, store clerks have collected 45 pages of signatures in support of the art staying in place.

Because neither the artists nor the business, at College Drive and East Eighth Avenue, got approval for the mural from the city’s Design Review Board, the mural’s fate ultimately could be determined during a public hearing May 14.

The store’s owner, Harbins Lali of Denver, still has to look at the art this weekend and decide what he wants to do, said Kathy Chastain, the store’s local manager, who thinks the art “is way cool. It’s something I had thought of doing anyway.”

Only five customers have told her they did not like it, she said.

City Manager Ron LeBlanc said the city is not out to punish the artists or business but wants to make sure protocol is followed for putting art on the exterior of a commercial building.

“We know it’s not graffiti,” LeBlanc said.

The mural was created by artists who were participating in a show called “Open Art Surgery” at the Durango Arts Center from April 6 to 14, but it was not a project of the arts center, said Sheri Rochford Figgs, the arts center executive director.

The show attracted public artists – artists who work on public spaces such as the sides of buildings – from the region as well as around the country. It had the edgy, big-city vibe that made one attendee remark that he did not feel like “he was in Durango, but in San Francisco, Chicago or New York,” Rochford Figgs said.

Rochford Figgs, however, did not think the city of Durango was being provincial in wanting to subject the mural to review.

“They have to be fair,” Rochford Figgs said. “If you have five children and let one get away with something, the other four children start pushing against you.”

Nicol Killian, a city planner, said the main objective of the review is to determine whether the mural is an advertisement because the city has criteria for signs.

“There’s no way we would approve a sign the size of that wall,” Killian said.

The business would not face any civil penalties or fines because the review process is free, but the five-member board could ask the business take it down, Killian said.

Chastain said the artists have offered to paint the wall back to white if the mural is not approved as well as present an alternative design to the board.

The failure to ask for city approval was an oversight because the store had assumed the artists had taken care of it, she said.

Two artists who worked on the project declined to speak on the record because they thought it was a “touchy situation.” As artists, they believe they should not comment about their work but let the art speak for itself.

They approached the business about painting a mural because they viewed the wall as an open canvas and liked the store’s proximity to Fort Lewis College. They offered different explanations for not getting city approval. One said it was just an oversight. The other said he did not think the city would have ever approved it because murals often are negatively associated with gangs.

They said 10 artists in their 20s to their mid-40s painted the mural over five hours April 5. They were a little ambivalent about the mural’s fate, saying the nature of public art is impermanent anyway.

But the artist who painted the mural’s Indian chief believes a favorable ruling could open the door to more murals.

He said he was gratified the mural has gotten so much public support.


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