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Mural promoting diversity prompts legal threat from small Minnesota town

The Rush City council threatened legal action if the business didn't paint over its artwork, but after public backlash, the mayor is urging it to reconsider.

RUSH CITY, Minn. — A mural promoting diversity in a small town caused a big uproar after the business behind it was threatened with legal action by the city.

The mural depicting raised fists of all skin tones rising from a flower garden was commissioned by Erin and Jason Oare, who have owned the Hairdo or Dye salon in Rush City for 13 years.

"We wanted to convey inclusiveness and coming together," Erin Oare said. "It was really important to us to make sure that maybe people who don't normally see themselves represented, are represented. Especially in a small community like this where they might not normally see something like that."

The Oares didn't expect to see their small community send them a notice of zoning violation in response. The letter notified them that they were required to paint over the mural within 10 days, or face a misdemeanor criminal charge.

"I guess kind of shock and disbelief a little bit," said Jason Oare. "That we weren't brought to the table before receiving this notice of violation." 

"And we have not been able to attain the minutes from the meeting, so we have no idea what was discussed or anything," Erin Oare said. "There was no mural ordinance. There was nothing that said we couldn't do it."

According to a public statement from Rush City Mayor Dan Dahlberg, clarifying the violation, it was issued because, "Per our interpretation of the (zoning) Code, anything that is not explicitly permitted is considered prohibited."

That explanation didn't exactly sit well with many who live in the area. 

"If you had painted a hairdryer on the building, I don't think anybody would have said anything," said Cindy Erickson.

A post about the violation, which went viral online, prompted many to stop by the shop on Tuesday, Nov. 1.

"I think it's beautiful and colorful," said Judy McPherson. "This town needs a little color in it, and it's making a point that anybody that comes into the shop is welcomed and loved no matter what color they are." 

"We feel a ton of support and love coming from everybody because of this and that's been super heartwarming," Erin Oare said.

In his statement, mayor Dahlberg acknowledged that support and said he was working to resolve the issue.

"Clearly, this piece of art has sparked an important conversation in our community and provides an opportunity for us to address the deficiency in the Code. As the Mayor of Rush City, I'm going to ask our City Council to have an open conversation about how we can clarify and address shortcomings with the Code. At a personal level, I believe the mural is a well-done piece of artwork and deserves more positive attention."

"I think it's a great step in the right direction," Erin Oare said. "I think it's proof that there's power in people, and the people who are supporting us and putting some pressure on the city have made a difference... hopefully." 

On Tuesday, the Oares said they received an email from the city administrator looking to schedule a meeting with the city council on Nov. 7 to discuss the mural. So far though, they haven't received word on their violation, which carries a deadline of Nov. 5.

"What we're thinking is on Saturday, our day 10 is over and we're in violation of this ordinance," Jason Oare said. "We'd like to see that rescinded since the mayor himself called the code 'deficient.'"

"It would be nice if everyone could come together and realize that this is a beautiful work of art, that just makes the community brighter," Erin Oare said.

Initially, community members were invited to a "Save the Wall" event on Saturday, Nov. 5 to show their support for the mural. However, a letter signed by the Oares and Mayor Dahlberg on Friday, Nov. 4 said that the event will be postponed until further notice after an influx of hateful messages surrounding the issue.

"We unequivocally denounce any negative rhetoric, or threats via social media, email, phone or any other means of communication," the letter said. "This must immediately stop."

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