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Ownership and maintenance of murals in question

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What is and is not a sign and who exactly owns the murals in the Murals of Minnesota project are some of the questions the city of Wadena is asking after the city-wide art project was recently completed.

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Mayor Wayne Wolden said he spoke with Dave Evert, an organizer of the murals project, about some concerns he heard after the erection of the painting at Wadena Outfitters. The placement of the mural as a free-standing structure is a departure from the other murals on the project, which are located on buildings. People have commented about visibility concerns, Wolden said.

Wolden didn't see a visibility concern, he said, but the mural is different from how project organizers described the murals project, which were supposed to be hung on buildings.

Police Chief Bruce Uselman agreed with the mayor's assessment.

"I didn't see an obstruction problem there, but I think we have to be careful ... of setting a precedence," Uselman said.

The city should be cautious, he said. If people want to put up something similar on their private property it could affect many things including the neighbor's view.

Councilman Toby Pierce made a motion to use the city's policy for signs in case there are any more murals added to the project.

Planning and Zoning Director Byron Larson said defining what is and isn't a sign is a problem with the city's sign ordinance. There is no advertising or store names on any of the murals, he said. The sign ordinance restricts the size and the amount of signage that can be on a building.

"I'm sure these [murals] would be well over what our sign ordinance would allow," Larson said.

Larson said ownership and maintenance are his office's primary concerns.

"Two years down the road when some of these start looking bad -- who owns them?" Larson asked. "Who's going to fix them?"

He's spoken with a couple of business owners whose buildings host murals and there is some

confusion over ownership, Larson said. Property owners were supposed to sign a form provided by the mural organizers, but the city has not received any of those for the project.

The Murals of Minnesota project does not own the murals, Wolden said. The people of Wadena own the murals and the maintenance is the responsibility of the building owner.

Councilman Don Niles did not want to make any decisions when the people involved with the murals were not in attendance, he said. Niles wasn't sure if Evert was given proper notice that he was on the agenda.

"I think the Alley Arts program has been a positive thing generally for the community," he said. "Certainly it's unique and has garnered support throughout the state and a fair amount of publicity."

Niles would like Larson or City Administrator Brad Swenson to follow up on the contracts the city was supposed to receive.

Councilwoman Kay Browne also suggested the city research guidelines used by other communities' public arts programs.

The motion to use the sign ordinance to regulate the murals was withdrawn.

They also need to look into what authority the city has to ask that murals be removed if they get unsightly and a business owner is unwilling to do something, Wolden said.

Evert was not in attendance at the July council meeting, but e-mailed Wolden a letter July 18 stating: "At one time I was asked to obtain permit applications before putting up art, but that was later abandoned when owners very directly refused. Then I was asked to get contracts from building owners, but when we requested these, we got similar refusals stating clearly it was not the city's business to control how someone chooses to paint their building so long as it is not a sign. Consequently, I have no contracts to give the city."

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