, Muskogee, OK


April 11, 2012

Take time to paint artistic future

— Muskogee officials made the correct decision to delay consideration of an ordinance designed to regulate non-commercial public murals.

The ordinance, which in effect would encourage  murals, would have a positive impact.

The Muskogee Arts Council has identified more than 50 buildings for possible mural projects.

Imagine a downtown so full of artistic murals as to encourage visitors to park their cars and take walking tours.

The problem with any law that seeks to legislate art is in the definition of art.

Art is considered free speech under the Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that magazines such as Playboy and Hustler are considered free speech as well.

The city must write an ordinance that encourages free, artistic expression without setting up the city to fight lawsuits over the definition of art. That takes time.

A draft of this ordinance, which was approved by the Public Works Committee, might have been too restrictive on free speech. It called for murals that were social, cultural or historic in significance. It also required approval by the Historic Preservation Committee.

City Attorney Roy Tucker recommended two changes to the ordinance after concerns arose about possible restrictions on free speech.

Tucker said the ordinance should expand free speech, rather than restrict it.

The suggested changes wold have allowed mural content to be “artistic or expressive.”

It also would have moved approval to the city’s planning director, who would only restrict subject matter that contained sexually explicit or gang-related images.

There is no real need to move quickly on the ordinance and far too much potential for legal challenges down the road.

A properly worded ordinance will encourage art.

An improperly worded ordinance will encourage lawsuits.

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