Mural artist questioned by Frankfort Police

Artist Dani Greene paints a B-52 Bomber on the side of the VFW Post 4075 Saturday afternoon. (Hannah Brown | State Journal)

Would controversial murals on the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4075 and a downtown building have been allowed under Frankfort's new mural ordinance? 

A city planner says a Buddha-themed mural at Broadway Street and Catfish Alley likely would have met the new guidelines, while the VFW mural is less clear-cut. The sponsor of the VFW mural believes it would have passed muster.  

After citizen opposition to the Buddha-themed mural downtown and a patriotic mural on the VFW building in South Frankfort, city commissioners passed the mural ordinance last month with four votes in favor and Commissioner Eric Whisman abstaining.

The ordinance outlines a process for pre-approval of murals in the downtown historic district. Proposed murals in historic districts are reviewed by the city's Planning and Community Development Department and if proposed murals do not meet guidelines, then the Architectural Review Board reviews the application. 

The new ordinance is not retroactive and cannot be enforced on existing murals.

To propose a mural, a citizen must send an application to Planning and Community Development, have a written consent letter from the building owner if the applicant is not the owner and a structural review by the city building inspector ensuring the safety of hanging murals that are not directly applied to a surface. The proposal also must include a sketch or rendering that shows building elevation, placement of existing architectural features like windows and doors, the mural's scale, the underlying layer and the proposed artwork. Also required is a written description of the type of mural, such as painted or mosaic, as well as the application technique and paint type for murals applied directly to surfaces. 

The review criteria section of the ordinance says that murals must comply with historic zoning district guidelines, one of which prohibits painting masonry that has not been previously painted. If a mural is also deemed a sign, it must comply with sign regulations found in the zoning ordinance. 

Debates around the Buddha and VFW murals fueled the passage of the ordinance. The Downtown Frankfort Mural Working Group held a January meeting after the Buddha mural was painted on the side of a building at Catfish Alley and West Broadway Street. Artist Dani Greene was confronted by police in February as she worked on the VFW mural at night.

Frankfort Director of Planning and Community Development Eric Cockley said that without a thorough review of the murals under the new regulations, it is hard to definitively say whether the controversial murals would have passed the checklist or not, but from his memory, the Buddha mural largely complied with the guidelines.

Mural debate ratchets up a notch

The mural at VFW Post 4075, at the corner of Capital Avenue and Second Street, after the word ‘Lyda’ was painted over on Thursday morning. (Chanda Veno | State Journal)

With the VFW mural, it's harder to say. Cockley said the addition of the mural at Capital Avenue and Second Street was more of a "face change" than addition of a mural, as the wall was previously painted with VFW's logos, which is considered signage and has a different set of guidelines. Because of its use of armed forces logos, the mural could be deemed a "mural" or a "sign." 

Cockley said the city has limited authority to regulate the content of murals under the new ordinance. Most of its oversight will be determining if a painted surface constitutes a sign or a mural. 

The process of creating the mural ordinance was needed because the city didn't have any way to oversee murals, Cockley said. 

Muralist gives downtown building a facelift

Lexington artist Dani Greene painted a mural of Buddha on the side of a building facing Catfish Alley in downtown Frankfort. Greene was commissioned by the owner of the building, Taylor Marshall, to paint the mural. (Hannah Brown | State Journal)

Danny Strong, who paid for the supplies and rental of a lift for the VFW mural, said he believes the mural would have passed the new guidelines. Strong said that he has briefly read the mural ordinance. He also hopes that city officials will support the time and money spent by Strong and Greene. 

Strong said he had permission for the mural, including the military symbols featured in the mural. He said he talked with Cockley and Senior Planner Jordan Miller among other city staff members prior to the mural's construction. 

The whole process of the city creating the guidelines has deterred Strong from commissioning more murals, he said. Strong had an artist lined up to do a huge mural on UrbanWoods, the apartment complex he owns on Wilkinson Boulevard, but because of possible backlash from some Frankfort residents, it's currently on hold. He would like to see a mural on the New Leash on Life thrift store at Broadway and Wilkinson, but now is not the right time. He thinks the city commission must change and support growth.

"It's a town that says 'No,'" Strong said. 

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