Tempers clash at meeting over Paint Memphis mural mix-up

Tempers clash at meeting over Paint Memphis mural mix-up
Published: Feb. 20, 2018 at 11:29 AM CST|Updated: Feb. 20, 2018 at 6:12 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Tempers flared between Memphis City Council members and the director of Paint Memphis over a series of murals that were accidentally painted over.

City crews were told to remove six murals last week in the area near Willett Street at Lamar Avenue that residents previously reported as offensive.

However, the crews painted over the wrong murals, instead removing murals by Paint Memphis that were not deemed offensive.

Following the mix-up, graffiti artists painted profanity and inflammatory messages over the newly-cleaned walls.

Tuesday's meeting at city council was supposed to be a discussion on how Paint Memphis and the city can move forward, but the presentation made this mural fight even messier.

The presentation was filled with arguments from the start, mostly between Paint Memphis director Karen Golightly and Memphis City Council chairman Berlin Boyd.

"You're sitting here insulting us," Boyd said to Golightly at one point.

"I expected to have a fair time to present my argument and was not given that which is disappointing," Golightly said.

Golightly said Paint Memphis is resolving to do a better job engaging the community in its mural designs next year.

But the controversy at hand started in November, when council members raised issue with six murals painted at Willett and Lamar, saying constituents complained.

One of the murals was one of Elvis with a snake coming out of his mouth.

"Art and free speech I get it, but this goes above and beyond offensive," Councilman Frank Colvett said in November.

In early February, city crews went to clean the murals deemed offensive but instead painted over the wrong ones, which the city acknowledged was an error.

Tuesday, Boyd offered a resolution in committee to order the immediate removal of the offensive murals, which remain in plain sight due to the error made by city crews.

However, Golightly said the city doesn't have the right to remove all of the murals the city deemed offensive. She said only three of them are actually on city property and the other three are on private property. She also claimed the people who own the land that the murals were painted on can't remove the pieces without permission from the artist.

"If anyone comes in and buffs them the artists can sue," Golightly said.

Golightly said some of the artists whose work was unintentionally removed are in talks with legal representation.

Golightly was asked if legal action is a step Paint Memphis would consider. She said right now she doesn't know, but she'll be waiting to see what happens next.

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