A committee will monitor murals in Clarksdale after the Board of Mayor and Commissioners voted earlier this month to form a group and establish a policy and procedure that will reflect the views and concerns of the community..
On a motion by Ward 1 Commissioner Bo Plunk and a second by Ward 3 Commissioner Willie Turner, the city will have each commissioner name a person to a committee that will oversee the composition of public murals in downtown Clarksdale. Ward 4 Commissioner Ed Seals also voted for the committee. Ward 2 Commissioner Ken Murphey was the lone voted against it. Under Clarksdale’s weak mayor form of government, Mayor Chuck Espy only votes on issues in the event of a tie.
The vote comes after Paint the Town, a group that has painted murals downtown, painted murals on walls that had political overtones and had content that some felt was in poor taste and did not reflect the views and tastes of Clarksdale.
Artists came from as far away as Colombia and France to paint murals on walls in the downtown area in October. Four artists came in 2018 to paint murals downtown as part of Paint the Town.
While most of the artwork got positive reviews and have become a photo opportunity for tourists, locals complained about work that expressed views on U.S. immigration policy and were signed by artist using pen names that some felt were offensive.
Commissioners had wrestled with three options at their October meeting and tabled their final vote until Tuesday’s meeting to gather legal input on the measure.
Plunk has said repeatedly he didn’t want to stop the artwork but wanted some way to approve content of murals before they went up.
Opponents to any form or regulation or oversight said a committee could stifle the creativity of artists and infringe on their First Amendment right to freedom of expression.
Murphey said Tuesday night he felt controls were already in place. He said the city had ordinance that banned on nudity, foul words and radical art.
City board attorney Melvin Miller has been charged with developing language in the ordinance that establishes the committee and its composition.
Clarksdale businessman Hartley Kittle spoke in favor of the murals and said the city had more important things to tend to than art on downtown walls.
Kittle said he was more concerned with the appearance of some of the dilapidated buildings downtown that served as canvasses for the murals. He urged commissioners to make owners of those buildings repair their property and give their storefronts a facelift.