Art under attack: Artists sue to save murals from city - CBS46 News

Art under attack: Artists sue to save murals from city

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(Source: WGCL) (Source: WGCL)

Artists say the city of Atlanta is threatening to remove their works across the city unless they comply with little-known rules.

A group of artists is taking the city of Atlanta to court. They filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday to save their artwork from being painted over. The artists say the city's restrictions are unconstitutional, a violation of freedom of expression.

According to a letter sent to the artists, the city set a June 9 deadline to comply by their rules or potentially have their murals removed.

Attorney Gerry Weber represents the artists and a property owner in a federal lawsuit against the city. 

“Every one of these works is one that the business wanted, the property owner wanted,” Weber explained.

Fabian Williams, also known as “Occasional Superstar,” makes his living through his art, especially his murals.

“When I got an e-mail saying I need to report my murals, I was just like, 'Why?,'” Williams told CBS46.

The murals are all on private property, but the city told the artists they failed to go through a multi-step process before painting them. The city told the artists their works still need to be approved or taken down. 

“Every time you make a piece, it is sort of like making a child, it’s a part of you… and you don’t want anyone to destroy your baby,” Williams contended.

The artists involved in the lawsuit, including Williams, claim they didn’t know that an ordinance even existed.

The Atlanta ordinance has been on city books since 1982. It imposes five layers of bureaucracy, including city council and mayoral approval for all murals. The artist claim that is unconstitutional.

“It is free speech,” claimed Williams.

The artists also say the cumbersome ordinance makes it impossible for them to make a living.

“I was supposed to start a big mural in April and I am still waiting on permission from the city to get started,” Williams stated.

“If…one of the agencies it had to go through just sat on it, it would never be approved,” Weber added.  

On Friday, both sides are scheduled to appear before a judge in federal court, but attorneys for the artists tell CBS46 that will not happen. They say they are in talks with the city and are optimistic they can come up with a solution outside of the courtroom. 

CBS46 reached out to the City of Atlanta for this report but they declined to comment.

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