Katherine Craig, The Illuminated Mural, 2009. (BB and HH/Flickr)</blockquote>
For Katherine Craig, the mural is more than a marker of North End’s rising status. The so-called “bleeding rainbow” mural is a cornerstone of her career. And now, since the building’s owner aims to sell or redevelop the property, the artist is taking legal action to protect her work.
Craig filed suit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Detroit against Princeton Enterprises, the owner of the building at 2937 East Grand Boulevard. The federal suit seeks an injunction that would bar the developer from destroying or otherwise altering The Illuminated Mural—something that the developer intends to do in order to convert the building into lofts or apartments.
Converting the 9-story building into a condo tower would ruin The Illuminated Mural, a 100-by-125-foot painting that covers virtually an entire side of the building. The artist, who studied at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, received a Community + Public Arts: Detroit grant from the College for Creative Studies to execute the mural. (Her piece is in fact the banner for the program’s homepage.) Craig poured and splattered more than 100 gallons of paint on the Albert Kahn–designed building to create her work.
Seeing how often The Illuminated Mural winds up mentioned in the same breath as Detroit works by Charles McGee or Shepard Fairey, it stands to reason that she’d want to ensure its future. “Craig’s mural challenged the limits of experimental and traditional approaches to street art,” write Julie Pincus and Nichole Christian in Canvas Detroit.
The Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) protects artworks of “recognized stature”— including murals—from destruction, whether “intentional or grossly negligent.” If the federal court grants an injunction in Craig’s case, it would prohibit the building’s owner from knocking down the building or punching holes through the mural for windows. The injunction would further require Princeton Enterprises to notify potential buyers upfront about the mural’s protected status.
This is definitely an interesting legal approach. I just wonder whether or not this overlooks the extent to which this work, and perhaps the others like it, might represent only a stage in the neighbourhood's transformation. When there are vacant buildings, there is space for public art; when the buildings are full, some of this may well be displaced by a neighbourhood with new life. Undeniable beauty like this might be only a stopgap, might even need to be transitory.