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City, street artists trying to resolve dispute

Local street artists and city officials are trying to negotiate a resolution of a recent lawsuit that seeks to put a halt to Atlanta's increased-up regulation and enforcement of murals on private property.

The federal lawsuit, filed Tuesday, said local artists and property owners had been told

they must go through an onerous multi-step application process to retain artwork that already exists or face possible prosecution -- and the elimination of murals on their own property. The city set a June 9 deadline for property owners and artists to comply with Atlanta's public art ordinance.

U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg had set a hearing for Friday, but postponed it until July 23. According to the court's docket, both sides had informed the judge "they had engaged in discussions (regarding) a possible resolution."

Gerry Weber, one of the plaintiffs' lawyer, confirmed that his clients and the city are trying to settle the dispute. "Absent reaching a resolution sometime soon, we will press for an order to make sure all murals in the city are protected," he said.

The city's public information office did not have an immediate comment. But Atlanta apparently decided to step up its enforcement and regulation after some neighborhoods complained about murals that had painted on the exterior walls of private and public structures, without anyone's permission.

The lawsuit alleges that the public art ordinance, which has been on the city's books since 1982, is unconstitutional. The suit notes that, before painting new murals, artists must go through an arduous application process: approval from five separate city offices, including the mayor and the City Council. The public art ordinance also provides no time limits for the approval process, the suit said.

Among the plaintiffs are Fabian Williams, a street artist who makes murals under the name "Occasional Superstar"; Peter Ferrari, "PLF"; Benito Ferro, "Yoyo Ferro"; and bar owner Grant Henry.

Since 2010, Atlanta has become a city well-known for its street and mural arts, said

Monica Campana, executive director of Living Walls, the Atlanta nonprofit that promotes street art.

"I have seen beautiful public art appear all over our city; and I have experienced collaboration, solidarity and community engagement with artists and residents," said Campana, who is not involved in the litigation.

"The current public art ordinance is limiting," she said, "but I am confident that if artists and the city work together, we could figure out ways to both maintain creative freedom and support a shared vision of a robust public art scene in Atlanta."


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Bill Rankin covers criminal justice for the Enterprise team.