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Plan for downtown mural unexpectedly rejected

The Heart of Danville was stunned Wednesday morning when the Architectural Heritage Board rejected their chosen artist for a mural on a downtown building, even though the board was aware of the artist’s style when it first approved the mural location in March. The board was also aware that the Heart had already spent money to contract with the artist.

The Heart’s executive director, Nick Wade, presented the board with the second part of the organization’s two-part request for the certificate of appropriateness for the mural. The planned location — on the side of The Derby Shoppe and Raggs on North Third Street — had already been approved. Wednesday’s presentation was so the board could review the final design of the project.

Wade showed the board the artist’s design, which was made specifically for Danville and includes instruments representing the brass band festival; the courthouse clock and dome; Trinity Episcopal Church’s front doors; log cabins; and Centre College.

Wade said the artist, Andee Rudloff, a nationally-respected mural artist from Bowling Green, was scheduled to be here Sept. 22, when members of the community would be invited to choose the colors and help paint in the spaces she had already drawn on the wall.

“It will be a community paint day,” Wade said enthusiastically.

The board then began questioning the artist’s style.

Kate Snyder, director of marketing and development for the CAC, and member of the Heart of Danville design committee, asked, “If what I was starting to hear is that some of you were thinking you were not comfortable with this style of the design.

“In that case, we cannot work with this artist because this is the style that she does and this is the style that we were contracted to do with her. Therefore, if the style is not accepted, then we don’t work with that artist. But we still do have to pay her for the work that she’s done and then this project would just go away.”

Wade said in order to give the board a specific mural design to consider, they had to pay Rudloff to get the process started.

Wade said at this point, if the board didn’t approve the design then the Heart, “would be out of $3,000.”

Board member Vaughn Frey said he was against the mural design, but not the location.

Snyder said a few “tweaks” could be made to the design, but the artist’s style “is part of what makes her very distinct, very unique.”

“Do I know exactly what color the flower in the foreground will be? No, but it will be within that feel. And I would imagine some things would be the colors that you would expect them to be. Like that Trinity’s door is going to be red … because it’s Trinity’s door. It’s not going to be teal green,” Snyder said.

“I just don’t like the Trinity door,” board member Julie Wagner said of the door’s image on the mural. “It looks like a surfboard with teeth. Can we tweak that a little bit?”

“Will you let us tweak that or do we have to come back and show you?” Snyder asked.

“I think the door placement is fine,” Wagner said. “I just think the way it’s designed it looks weird.”

At one point in the meeting, AHB members began talking over one another when chairman Tom Tye broke in and said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa!”

Bridgette Lester, director of Codes Enforcement, told the board that at its March meeting, it approved putting a mural on the building, but the artist and the design was not approved.

Snyder agreed with that statement, however, she said, “That’s why we did show you examples of the artist and we are on record as specifically saying if anyone has concerns about the style of this artist, now is the time to do that.”

At that earlier meeting, AHB member Mary Girard said, “Let me be very clear on this: The reason that (Wade) needs to get permission from us to get that contract signed (is because) she’s going to want money up front before she starts doing design work and so … if anybody else has issues about this type of artwork and it being downtown, now is the time to speak up before they start spending money that they might lose.”

Board member Dana Dixon said at Wednesday’s meeting, “We were aware that you would have to pay $1,000 to get this design.”

“That wasn’t in the minutes,” Lester said. “… It may have been discussed, but I just don’t see it in the minutes.”

Girard said she stands by the project and motioned for it to be approved — without the addition of any lettering that had been mentioned.

However, the board was quiet.

Tye then declared that the motion failed for lack of a second.

“Well…” he asked Lester, “… where do we go from here?”

“Well, this mural is not approved,” Lester said. “They can’t use this mural … They have to come back with another recommendation for you to approve.”

Snyder said, “What you are saying is you want a different artist. Is that what I’m hearing? … What I’m hearing is the location is fine, but the majority of you do not want this artist to do the artwork.”

“That’s the way I feel,” Frey said.

“I’m just clarifying so that we know where we’re going next,” Snyder said.

Tye said that seemed to be the consensus of the AHB.

Next on the agenda was Mary Beth Touchstone, who was representing the Sister Cities’ request for a design review and certificate of appropriateness for a mural being planned for the side of Elmwood Inn Teas on Second Street.

Following its approval, Touchstone admonished the board for rejecting the other mural.

“There is a regional artist wanting to come into town, having already been paid to do a design, and we’re letting it slip through our fingers. It’s our communal loss if we don’t embrace new and exciting things,” she said. “And that parking lot area where you’ve got The Beer Engine, and you’ve got Plank rolling out there, farmers markets and food trucks, and we had the opportunity now to have it anchored on both sides with the murals that the city isn’t even funding. They’re privately funded. Embrace it. Embrace the change. Be the ‘historically bold.’ That’s what I ask you to do.”

Following the meeting, Wade said in an email, “We were all surprised with their decision. I felt that we made it very clear during our meeting in March that Andee was the selected artist and what her chosen style looks like. We expected them to have a few suggested changes or additions, but we never anticipated them to not approve the design.

“We know that dealing with public art is a new challenge for the Architectural Heritage Board, but it is imperative that they understood the process. Which is why we made it abundantly clear what the design style of the mural would be, and what is at stake if they deny our request at the second meeting. We wanted them and us to have zero surprises.”

Wade said the Heart doesn’t know what its next step will be, but they aren’t ready to write off the project or lose their deposit.

“The Heart of Danville Board feels it is imperative that we push the community to embrace new ideas for the downtown district. Also, we were awarded a grant for this project to help offset the cost. If we give up now, then we will be forced to forfeit the grant,” Wade said. “I think it is a shame that the Architectural Heritage Board let an incredible mural that showcases our community slip through their hands. Andee Rudolf is a talented artist with a strong background in art education. … Her mural design spoke about Danville, about what makes this community special, what makes us ‘Historically Bold’ and I am disappointed that the community may not get to see her final piece come to life.”