The fate of a giant John McCain mural planned for Old Town Scottsdale could be decided in coming days, as the Scottsdale City Council takes a closer look at the project.
The mural has been placed on a city council agenda for Tuesday, February 19. It’s a chance for city council members to review an earlier decision by the city’s Development Review Board, which voted to approve the mural at its December 20, 2018, meeting. It’s also an opportunity for interested members of the public to weigh in, whether they support or oppose the mural.
Aaron Bass designed the mural for Chen & Suchart Studio, and he's already partially painted the design on a north-facing exterior wall of a commercial building in Old Town. The building, which is owned by Giddyup Properties, is located at 4235 North Marshall Way.
The artwork is titled the Maverick Mural, referencing a familiar moniker for Senator McCain, who died on August 25, 2018. The design measures roughly 140 feet long and 30 feet tall and comprises about 300,000 pictograms painted in red or blue, arranged to create McCain’s profile surrounded by details of the Arizona flag.
The wall’s location on the boundary between two properties is complicating efforts to complete the mural.
Adjacent to the wall is a parking lot owned by Dewey Schade, who has voiced strong opposition to the artwork. Bass can’t stand in front of the wall and paint without stepping on Schade’s property. He’s tried painting using machinery that elevates him off the ground, but Schade considers that trespassing, and he's not alone.
“When you buy property in Arizona, you buy the land and the air above,” says Scottsdale City Councilwoman Kathy Littlefield, who asked the city council to look at the development review board decision. “The city has no discretion about whether to obey the law.”
There’s also the public art issue. “It’s not public art, but it will be viewed by the public, and viewed as public art,” Littlefield says. “Does this fit within the context of what Scottsdale has deemed appropriate for public art?”
The city councilwoman believes the piece does not fit what Scottsdale would consider appropriate for public art. “It’s generally my understanding that Scottsdale Public Art tends to not want to do political things," she says.
Some opponents have additional concerns. Tom Silverman, a Scottsdale resident since 1953, wrote a letter to the city planning department last December, expressing concern about the mural’s size. Silverman likens the mural to “placing a block-long billboard, three stories tall, in the midst of downtown.” His letter also states that the project comprises “commercial exploitation of Senator McCain’s image, persona, and legacy.”
Letters for and against the mural are included with the agenda for the February 19 city council meeting, which anyone can access on the city’s website. Letters for the mural far outnumber letters against it. Most were sent by email, and appear to be based on a single sample letter.
John Rao, who owns property near the mural site, questions the way support has been garnered. His December 13, 2018, letter to city officials states that “all of the presumed support for the project is the result of publicity generated by the building owner and the artists who have direct financial interest in the mural.”
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The team behind the mural remains undaunted, and have begun rallying supporters via social media and other means. “We just started reaching out to veterans organizations to get them on board,” Bass told Phoenix New Times in January. “We’ve asked them if they’re interested in coming out to the council meeting.”
Supporters wore pro-mural T-shirts provided by the mural team to the development review board meeting and plan to do the same at the next meeting. “We made about 35 shirts last time, we hope to make 50 to 100 this time.”
Bass feels optimistic, but says he’s ready for anything
“If the mural isn’t approved, we’ll appeal the decision.”