Culture News

Controversy Continues Over John McCain Mural Planned for Scottsdale

The late senator.
The late senator. Miriam Wasser
There's a new twist in the ongoing controversy over a giant mural of John McCain planned for Old Town Scottsdale.

Scottsdale City Council voted on January 8 to review a development review board decision to approve the mural. And they went a step further, telling mural organizers to halt work on the piece until the city council tackles the issue at a future meeting. 

The mural's design features the face of Arizona Senator John McCain, who died on August 25, 2018. A small portion of the mural, which is titled The Maverick, has already been completed on the north-facing façade of a commercial building owned by Oregon-based attorney and real estate developer Eric Marvin. It's located at 4235 North Marshall Way.

click to enlarge Installing part of The Maverick mural in Old Town Scottsdale. - MATT WINQUIST
Installing part of The Maverick mural in Old Town Scottsdale.
Matt Winquist
The Maverick was designed by Aaron Bass, an architectural designer and artist with Chen + Suchart Studio in Old Town. He's spearheading the mural project with architect Thamarit Suchart.

Bass reimagined a McCain portrait by Nigel Parry, creating a grid of 30,000 pictograms that form an image of McCain’s face along with a portion of the Arizona state flag. The pictograms are based on five Cs affiliated with Arizona history: cattle, citrus, climate, copper, and cotton. The design calls for painting them red and blue.

The mural is being privately funded, although the city still has a say in whether or not it can move forward. That’s because the city has design guidelines, and formal processes for reviewing architectural designs for commercial buildings. The development review board considered the mural’s design, and voted to approve it on December 20, 2018. But now the city council could end up overruling that decision

It’s not the first time the City Council has decided to review one of the board’s decisions. In December 2017, the development review board voted against a proposed sculpture designed by John Randall Nelson. The City Council reviewed their decision in February 2018, and approved the 26-foot-tall rabbit titled One-Eyed Jack, which was installed at the corner of Indian School Road and Marshall Way in Old Town during September 2018.

click to enlarge Checking out early progress on The Maverick mural. - LYNN TRIMBLE
Checking out early progress on The Maverick mural.
Lynn Trimble
It's devastating news for mural organizers, who've spent months working to garner support for the artwork. Bass created an online crowdfunding campaign for the mural through Kickstarter on August 18, 2018. He hoped to raise $20,000, to fund both The Maverick and other public art projects.

The 30-day campaign ended on September 17, after 157 people pledged a total of $20,220. Bass won’t disclose the names of Kickstarter donors, but says donations ranged from $1 to $3,000. Just 17 of those donors live in Scottsdale, according to information Kickstarter published on The Maverick mural page.

Not everyone supports the mural effort. Opponents include Dewey Schade, whose properties in Old Town include a parking lot that abuts the wall where the mural has been taking shape. Schade is refusing to grant access to his parking lot, which presents logistical challenges for making the mural happen. “The constitution gives me property rights,” he says. “You cannot trespass.”

Bass says it’s possible to paint the mural without standing in Schade’s parking lot, using a boom device that can swivel from the sidewalk over to the wall. Schade counters that by saying his property rights extend into the air above the parking lot.

But that's not his sole concern. “I’ve known John McCain for 40 years,” Schade says. “I could never countenance this disrespectful exploitation of his image.” First, there’s the fact that fundraising started before McCain’s death. Then, there’s the mural’s location. “If you were wanting to honor John McCain, would you really put up a mural next to a parking lot that backs up against an alley?”

He’s not alone in opposing the mural. John Rao, who owns the building on the other side of Schade’s parking lot, stated his opposition to the mural in a December 13 letter to Randy Grant, the city's planning and development services director. 

click to enlarge Taking a closer look at details for the partially-completed mural. - LYNN TRIMBLE
Taking a closer look at details for the partially-completed mural.
Lynn Trimble
Mural organizers have a different take. “We’re commemorating someone who dedicated his life to his country,” Suchart says. “This is a piece of art that has significance and meaning.” Bass agrees, yet acknowledges that not everyone will like it. “That’s part of art; it promotes civil discourse.”

Materials they submitted to the design review board include a November 5 letter of support from Senator McCain’s wife, Cindy Hensley McCain, to the city council. McCain’s daughter, Meghan McCain, tweeted her support for the mural on August 20. 

But that hasn't softened Schade’s stance. He’s placed a no trespassing sign on the parking lot. For a time, he had security guards in place. And now, he's keeping a close eye on the property, ready to call the police if that’s what it takes to keep mural organizers off his property.

Meanwhile, the mural team is  planning its next steps. In a January 8 text message to Phoenix New Times, sent just hours after the City Council reached its decision, Suchart vowed to press on with the project. "Needless to say....we are all very disappointed with this outcome but will fight the fight when it comes under scrutiny this second time."
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Lynn Trimble is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer specializing in arts and culture, including visual and performing arts
Contact: Lynn Trimble