Here's how a Willo wall looks without mural art.EXPAND
Here's how a Willo wall looks without mural art.
Lynn Trimble

UPDATE: Phoenix Calls Meeting on Controversy Over Murals in Historic Neighborhoods

UPDATE, 5:30 p.m. July 16: The City of Phoenix is holding a community meeting for people who want to share their opinions about murals in historic neighborhoods. It's taking place at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, August 21, inside the Pulliam Auditorium at Burton Barr Central Library. You can address questions about that meeting to Michelle Dodds, historic preservation officer for the city, at 602-262-7468. The Phoenix Mural Project is asking mural supporters to share their feedback here.

There’s controversy brewing over murals in the Willo Historic Neighborhood. The murals went up in May, during the Phoenix Mural Festival.

Organizer Danielle Foushée paired people who wanted murals for their homes or businesses with artists who wanted to paint them.

Part of a collaborative mural located near Coronado Street and Fifth Avenue.EXPAND
Part of a collaborative mural located near Coronado Street and Fifth Avenue.
Lynn Trimble

Seems simple enough, but there’s a catch.

Not everyone is happy about the murals painted in the Willo Historic Neighborhood, which runs from Thomas to McDowell roads between First and Seventh avenues.

It’s an issue Robert Cannon, president of the board for the Willo Historic Neighborhood, noted in his president’s report for a recent Inside Willo newsletter.

“A robust discussion occurred at the May board meeting regarding the painting of murals within our neighborhood,” he wrote.

Laura Spalding Best mural painted facing a Willo alleyway.
Laura Spalding Best mural painted facing a Willo alleyway.
Lynn Trimble

Many of the murals were painted on exterior walls for yards, which belong to the respective homeowners. Others, including murals by Laura Spalding Best and Maggie Keane, were painted on walls facing alleyways.

But that hasn’t prevented some people living in the area from complaining.

That’s clear by looking at the minutes of the association’s May meeting, which are posted on the Willo Historic Neighborhood’s website.

“A majority of those present and a majority of the Board were not in favor the the murals,” according to the minutes.

Even so, the board doesn’t have the authority to remove or regulate them, Cannon says. And they were painted with homeowner consent.

Foushée lives in the Willo neighborhood, and she's got a completely different take on the murals.

"The majority of my neighbors are extremely supportive of the project, and have told me as much," she says. "My understanding is there are just a small handful of malcontent Willo residents with a vocal ringleader."

In any event, the board is looking for ways to address the mural issue moving forward, so a similar controversy won’t happen again.

Recently, they sent a letter to Michelle Dodds, historic preservation officer with the city of Phoenix. The letter asks the city to provide guidelines for murals in historic neighborhoods within 90 days, Cannon says.

Turns out, Dodds also got a letter from the Phoenix Historic Neighborhoods Coalition. It’s likely she’ll hold a meeting with community members so people have a chance to discuss the issue.

Part of a mural collaboration painted in Willo during the Phoenix Mural Project.EXPAND
Part of a mural collaboration painted in Willo during the Phoenix Mural Project.
Lynn Trimble

Odds are, she’ll hear multiple perspectives.

“We started getting calls after some of the murals went up, and we’ve had several calls on both sides of the issue,” Dodds says.

People have been weighing in through social media as well.

Beatrice Moore, an artist who owns several buildings along Grand Avenue, shared her take on Facebook. She’s seen similar controversies ensue over paint colors on private property.

“Who is going to sit on a panel and decide a person can’t paint their historic home bright orange if they want to? And how is that different from painting a mural on your home or wall?” Moore wrote in part.

An alleyway mural painted for the Phoenix Mural Festival.
An alleyway mural painted for the Phoenix Mural Festival.
Lynn Trimble

For Moore, it’s an issue of freedom of expression.

“The control freaks who want to force everyone to their rigid (and very boring) visual standards are the real problem,” she also wrote in that post. “If you want to regulate people’s houses and yards in this way, you need to go live in an HOA.”

The Willo neighborhood doesn’t have a homeowners' association, which means there aren’t any HOA rules that residents have to follow.

The city regulates signs, but not murals. And the murals aren’t considered graffiti since the property owners gave their permission. Any new regulation would require city council approval, Dodds says.

“The mural issue is a tough one because you’re talking about art and expression,” she says.

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