Atlanta Officials Propose Regulating “Public Art” on Private Property

A Living Walls mural by the artist Hyuro that was at the center of a controversy in fall 2012 (photo by vandalog, via Flickr)
A Living Walls mural by the artist Hyuro that was at the center of a controversy in fall 2012 (photo by vandalog, via Flickr)

City Councilmembers in Atlanta are proposing an ordinance that would require anyone wishing to display “public art” on their private property to obtain a labyrinthine string of permits and approvals, Creative Loafing has reported. The legislation put forth by 12 councilmembers aims to put in place “a permitting process providing for clear guidelines in distinguishing commercial speech from public art, describing required public input, and reviewing the effect on traffic safety,” because displays of public art “can become excessive.” It’s unclear how popular the measure is or what it requires to become law, but thus far, one Neighborhood Planning Unit has voted unanimously against it.

The legislation would update the Code of Ordinance of the City of Atlanta to include a section titled “Works of Art on Private Property,” and the approval process would be as follows: First, submit a permit application, which, in order to even proceed, would require three certifications from as many city offices; next, if those are granted, the application would go on the agenda for a Neighborhood Planning Unit meeting in the area where the art would be located; then, a councilmember would have to introduce “a personal paper in support of the installation of public art”; then, the application would have to be made into a written ordinance; and finally, “The City Council may approve the ordinance presenting the Application, with or without conditions or may vote to adverse the ordinance.”

The ordinance’s definition of “public art” is also troublingly broad:

Public art is for the purposes of this article defined as an expression of creative skill or imagination in a visual form, such as painting or sculpture which is intended to beautify or provide aesthetic influences to public areas on private property or areas on private property which are visible from the public right of way or other public spaces. Public art may be physically expressed as the creation of a structure or the depiction of visual expression located on the outside of a building on private property and which is visible from a City park, sidewalk, street or other right-of-way.

Creative Loafing offers more context on the effort: spearheaded by Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd, it’s similar to legislation that she proposed last summer, in reaction to controversy over a Living Walls mural.

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