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Artless Avenue

Sans permit, exactly why is art such a problem on Monument Avenue?

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Art 180’s Marlene Paul on Monument Avenue, where 31 murals have stood since March 26. They must come down, but not before a public art walk, which was scheduled for Tuesday, April 3, beginning at 7 p.m. at the Lee monument. - ASH DANIEL
  • Ash Daniel
  • Art 180’s Marlene Paul on Monument Avenue, where 31 murals have stood since March 26. They must come down, but not before a public art walk, which was scheduled for Tuesday, April 3, beginning at 7 p.m. at the Lee monument.

So the Confederate generals can't coexist with children's art work, after all. Art 180's traveling exhibit on Monument Avenue, spanning several blocks from Mulberry Street to the Robert E. Lee statue, will be dismantled by week's end and moved.

Late Monday afternoon, Byron Marshall, the city's chief administrative officer, said the permit for the art exhibit had been issued by mistake. Officials contacted Art 180 last week to inform organizers that the murals needed to be removed by April 6. While it was unclear at press time whether they had to come down by Friday, it is clear that they won't be on Monument much longer.

It was a bumpy couple of days along the city's most famous median. All kinds of seemingly rational explanations were floated as to why some residents thought the "What Do You Stand For?" exhibit, which features 31 8-foot-tall murals painted mostly by city fifth- and sixth-graders, wasn't the right fit. Let's take stock of a few:

The exhibit came as a surprise! Perhaps. Marlene Paul, co-founder and executive director of Art 180, approached the Monument Avenue Preservation Society (the community's neighborhood association) in September to seek the board's blessing. She got it.

"It wasn't that specific. We talked about the project and approved the idea," says Bill Tate, president of the society. "At that point we thought they were going to come back to us to arrange a time. It just kind of showed up and surprised some people."

Paul says she contacted a member of the board, whom she declined to name, March 21 to let her know the exhibit had received its city permit. The exhibit went up March 26.

The murals will obstruct Easter on Parade! This seemed to be the chief concern of City Councilman Charles Samuels, whose district includes Monument Avenue. He released a statement Sunday expressing concern that the exhibit could be damaged during the parade.

But Art 180 already had been in contact with Venture Richmond, which throws Easter on Parade, and there wasn't an issue. Lisa Sims, deputy director of events and marketing for Venture Richmond, says the murals won't be in the way. "All we need to do is kind of move a few of the pieces for a few hours on Sunday and then we leave," Sims says. "It really has nothing to do with us. It's bizarre."

The murals are killing the grass! Tate says some residents are concerned about the grass being trampled on. But the median has more than its share of brown dead spots, and is a site of constant walking, running, even parading, which would seem far more damaging than bystanders looking at murals for a few weeks.

There are paintings featuring black children! OK, so 22 of the 31 murals feature some black skin, of some variety, but Tate won't give that a second thought. He says it has nothing to do with race.

Paul also doesn't want to go there. "I don't want to believe that it's about race. I'm going to trust that we've evolved beyond that," Paul says. "I don't know that we have."

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