Richmond Camera Must Remove Mural

Earlier this year, a sixteen students and two teachers from Tandem painted a large mural on the wall of Richmond Camera, on High Street next to Jak ‘n Jil. (You can see photos on the camera shop’s website.) But the business, despite having approached Tandem in the first place, never applied for any permits to cover one wall of their building in signage. So now the city has told them that the sign is illegal, Courteney Stuart writes in The Hook, and must be removed by the end of the month. The city spokesman points out that Richmond Camera can appeal their decision to the Board of Zoning Appeals, which may well give them permission to keep the sign, but it’s a step that they’ve got to take if they don’t intend to comply with the law.

It’s a great-looking mural that’s definitely more art than advertisement—here’s hoping the BZA lets it stay—but Richmond Camera deserves no sympathy for failing to get a permit. The Tandem kids, on the other hand, ought to be upset and disappointed if their work gets erased. The owner of Richmond Camera owed them better treatment than this. Now it’s up the city to make that right.

05/13 Update: A spokesman for the city tells me that Neighborhood Development Services figures that this mural is art, not signage, and thus that they have no say in whether it should be there. He points out, too, that the store owner has been very cooperative, but that he’s still got to pare down his three signs to the limit of two for an entrance corridor. The colorful mural will stay, everybody’s happy, the end.

26 thoughts on “Richmond Camera Must Remove Mural”

  1. What makes it a sign vs. a mural? The website photos do not show a name of a company in the wall painting nor store hours. Why isn’t this the same as painting your wall different colors?

  2. Our city government paid thousands of dollars for that awful whale tail thing on the by-pass, but now it’s condemning art that kids put on the side of a building for free? Isn’t that mural exactly the sort of thing that the Art in Place project would seem to be encouraging? Common sense has long since left the building down at City Hall.

  3. In Charlottesville, the old saying “art begins where common sense leaves off” sometimes applies to government.

    I’d liked to see this go to court, so the entire art community could come in and testify this is a mural, not an ad.

    Those murals Huja and the city commissioned on West Main Street 30 years ago had more advertising than this does, if only because they were prominently signed by the late Art Stubbs who painted signs for a living.

    So the business didn’t apply for a permit to paint a mural on their building. Why should it even occur to them that they have to ask big brother if they can paint an exterior wall?

    It makes me sick to read the attitude here or anywhere that whatever a government employee says, it’s to be taken as dictum and not to be questioned.

    There’s no place in an enlightened world for sanctimony; that’s a childish attitude we were expected to outgrow. Evidently that’s changed.

  4. “Art is what you can get away with” is the slogan on the mural. I guess by that definition, this mural isn’t art!

  5. I felt so badly for the students when I saw this story on the news. Imagine how excited they were to finish their project just to be met with this bad news.

    By the way, I think the whale tale is awesome.

  6. I live near the whale tail, and I love it–it’s my favorite ArtInPlace piece!

    (I bought the artist a thank-you bottle of Sauv. Blanc with a whale tail on the label as he was finishing his work.)

  7. I like the mural, and I hope it survives this bureaucratic onslaught. If it must go, perhaps an happening event like a mass art assassination via group paintballing would be appropriate.

  8. “Why should it even occur to them that they have to ask big brother if they can paint an exterior wall?”

    Perhaps because we live in a community with laws. Not liking the laws, or being ignorant of the laws, doesn’t mean that the laws don’t exist. If someone wants to live in a community that doesn’t care what gets put where, and everything is hideous and poorly planned, they should either elect leaders that reflect their aesthetics, or move.

    I too like the mural, and hope it can stay, but the fact that no one bothered to check whether or not this sort of thing was allowed is just stupid.

    (and FWIW, I’m a member of “the art community”)

    (and 1 to loving the Whale Tail!)

  9. Obviously, the solution is to paint the wall blue, and put a whale tail in it. Everyone goes away happy.

    /no charge

  10. “More art than advertisement”? That is not a sign, billboard, or placard. It does not mention the name of the shop, or any details about it.

    I see a couple of possibilities here:

    Someone hates Richmond Camera, the art, or Andy Warhol
    Someone has a fetish for regulating things, and has not been kept busy enough recently
    The story is incorrect about which city ordinance was “violated”

  11. “More art than advertisement”? That is not a sign, billboard, or placard. It does not mention the name of the shop, or any details about it.

    I’d agree with you if the painting was not of cameras…on the side of a store that sells cameras. If the painting was of trees, monkeys, or a cityscape, then I’d totally agree it’s without a commercial aspect.

  12. This country was not founded on the premis that government can dictate every move people make.

    We let it get to that, and the founders of this country would likely hate us for ruining what they created.

    And hate most of all those who actually defend government control that adds to its dictatorial powers year-in, year-out, while giving up none, until we cannot make the most innocent move without asking, paying, appealing.

    Evidently schools stopped teaching the view of history that raises doubts about government control. That’s what we were taught in my era, before government gave itself the power to choose school textbooks and control their message.

    So for a generation, students have been taught nothing about questioning authority beyond their parents’ 1960s bumper sticker.

    So sad

  13. Update: The city has reversed its position, and the mural can stay. They did not realize it was art.

  14. One can only wonder what someone who dislikes Tom Given’s graceful whale tail would approve of as suitable public art.

    The city did not buy it, due to maintenance and longevity issues. Considering the damage done by recent snows, it was the wise decision to lease instead of buy.

    Tom lives nearby and was quick to reinforce, then repair, the tail.

    It’s 150% the size of a sperm whale tail. Impressive. A tree bench was provided privately by the neighborhood to complement it.

    Soon the city will extend its bicycle and walking path across Whale Tail Park.

    With the BAR stiflingly closed minded, and Art in Place at the open end, there’s a range here for nearly everyone.

  15. I love the mural and am thrilled it can stay! It’s one of the only pieces of eye candy in that section of E High corridor, which is pretty depressing looking. Thanks to our City officials for making the right decision.

    Though I disagreed with the fact that Richmond Camera was cited for the mural, I can hardly fault zoning officials for doing their jobs. The City didn’t issue the citation out of malice, any more than Richmond Camera acted out of malice when they gave permission for the kids to paint the mural in the first place.

    I’m glad for this happy ending. Now if only Richmond Camera would encourage the kids to come back and work some of their magic on the front of the building, and then paint their way down the corridor to the bypass… ;-)

  16. Even more proof this one-horse town is a wannabe culture zone with a doofus city bureaucracy that can’t tell the diff between signage/mural. Get an edgmocation, rednecks!

  17. I drove down and took a look. On my first pass from Meade Ave onto High St., I didn’t see the mural because I had a green light and had to watch the road. On the second pass, you can’t see the mural from High St. so it doesn’t seem to affect the High St. entrance corridor. The mural faces Meade Ave. Is Meade (and every city street) an entrance corridor? So we have a two-tier legal system for streets (special streets and regular streets, some being more equal than others).

    A sign painted onto a wall has the least environmental impact of any sign. No post hole to dig. No post. No sign. The building is always there. You see those signs painted on old buildings downtown? Of course now they’re illegal.

    And one more thing- how does freedom work? You ask the govt for permission before you exercise your freedom, say, in this case, freedom of speech. The only difference between the legal mural and illegal signage is the content. No Way! you say. In America?

  18. If a building is in an entrance corridor, any of its walls that are in view of any street is under the design control policies. The owner should have contacted the zoning admin BEFORE he agreed to allow the students to paint a mural. The city denied a guy a couple of years back permission to pain a mural under the 14th ST NW train tracks. It just reinforces the fact that, in Charlottesville, laws are applied politically. What a lesson to teach the students.

  19. There’s a really nice mural in the heart of Crozet.
    Occasionally, the graffitti wall at CHS has some worthwhile content.Is that a sign, vandalism, or art?
    Back in the mid 70’s, a buddy worked at Baltimore city parks as a muralist painting walls rec centers .There was also an effort to decorate fire hydrants at the time.

  20. It doesn’t matter whether a sign or a wall was painted or not. The law covers paint color changes for any purpose.

  21. There’s an article on the Daily Progress website today concerning possible relaxation of Albemarle Co. sign restrictions .

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