Buffed Mural in Atlanta Ignites Debate Over Commissioned Street Art

A dispute over the lack of consultation with locals that preceded French artist Pierre Roti‘s creation of a 240-foot-long mural in Atlanta’s Pittsburgh neighborhood as part of the street art non-profit Living Walls‘s conference last summer has thrown into sharp relief the tensions sparked by street artists’ increasingly common practice of obtaining permission to create large-scale works. “Pittsburgh is not against art,” former state representative Douglas Dean told the Atlantic Cities after he helped a group of locals buff the mural. “We just don’t think that the artist represents our community. All these departments of city government signed off on this, but no one talked to anyone in the neighborhood.”

The problem with this type of street art project stems from the lack of interaction between the artists — who often only need to secure permission from a building owner, landlord, tenant, or city agency — and the community that sees the the work every day. And, naturally, popular opinion of public art is hardly unanimous.

Roti’s Atlanta mural had many fans, too, and they turned up after the vigilante buffing in an effort to salvage the work. While they did manage to remove most of the paint from the massive artwork, a subsequent investigation revealed that Living Walls had not consulted with the wall’s actual owner, the Georgia Department of Transportation, which has subsequently painted over the mural again.

“That’s real messed up,” local resident Britney Andrews told the Atlantic Cities. “We should have a say. We walk past that wall every day. We’re still trying to figure out what it means!”

“We can’t just say, ‘We’re putting this mural here and you’re going to like it!,’” said R.J. Rushmore, editor of the street art blog Vandalog. “If the community hates it, what should be done?”

— Benjamin Sutton

(Photo: Detail of Roti’s for Living Walls. Via Living Walls/Facebook.)