MINNEAPOLIS -- Mural artists have learned the hard way that Hennepin County must sign off on public art projects before they begin.
A county graffiti removal crew painted over an immense mural on the Midtown Greenway, while it was still in progress. The organizers hadn't received a permit from the county to commence the piece.
"We had permission of the building owners and the Midtown Greenway Alliance OK'd the project, but we didn't know Hennepin County owned the wall and would treat it the same as graffiti," Joan Vorderbruggen, of Artists in Storefronts, told KARE.
The Greenway is a 5.7-mile stretch of green space featuring a two bicycle lanes and a pedestrian trail. It was built in phases beginning in the year 2000, using land the Milwaukee Road railway sold to the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority.
The railroad's right-of-way was below street level, so the trail is surrounded in places by retaining walls. That has made it a target for graffiti, which is what prompted Hennepin County to routinely cover up the random art and scrawling associated with street gangs.
Artist Yuya Negishi and others began work on the mural last week as part of the Greenway Glow art festival and bicycling event.
"It's very sensible that the Greenway should be a showcase for public art and that it should be muralized instead of being filled with white and ugly walls," Vorderbruggen remarked.
"This was a total volunteer effort and they used their own paint, so it was really especially crushing to get it painted over. Now, they're out of materials and they spent all that time for naught."
Erin Sayer, a professional muralist, who did the massive north wall mural at Herkimer Pub and Brewery in Uptown, said it's a form of public art that tends to discourage vandals and graffiti artists.
"There's a two-fold benefit to these murals. One is to be a destination for people to come see the murals and another is to deter graffiti in an area that's been plagued by that."
She noted that a 300-foot wooden fence at 28th Street and 2nd Avenue South had been hit repeatedly by taggers until the owner allowed a group of artists to convert it to a colorful mural.
While a small skirmish played out on Facebook over the county's decision to paint over the Greenway mural, Sayer blamed herself for not getting the permitting process nailed down.
"It was my fault in not getting the permit," Sayer said.
"I feel sad. It's so hard to find exactly who to talk to and how to get a permit to do something like this because nobody's tried to do it before."
In a statement to the media and posted on Facebook, Hennepin County said, "Our graffiti crew painted over it because it was not a permitted mural."
"Somewhat fortunately the crew ran out of paint mid job and has been instructed to leave the mural as-is as we work with Minneapolis and the artists on the next steps."
The silver lining to the white washed walls is that now the organizers know they're on to an idea that the neighborhood seems to appreciate.
"We realize now we have a lot of support from the community to do, to muralize the Greenway," Vorderbruggen said.
"People really want it and are very vocal about it!"
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