By LINDA MOSS
Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but adding it to public walls without permission is unlawful. Hence, the township is considering a crack-down and prosecution of the culprit who touched-up an existing mural on Glenridge Avenue.
Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renée Baskerville brought up the issue at Tuesday’s Township Council meeting, where she displayed cellphone photos of a mural on a wall across the street from The Crosby and Fin Raw Bar and Kitchen, right by the Midtown Parking Lot.
Roughly 2 1/2 years ago, the Montclair Center Business Improvement District had a mural by artist Lori Panico painted on that wall, apparently without the necessary town approval. The BID vowed not to do any other murals without permission again, according to township officials.
Recently Baskerville said she observed changes in the existing mural, in that someone had painted “Love Where You Live” in white paint across it. The mural has two large portraits of two women’s faces, followed by rows of brightly colored vertical lines, which is where the new lettering was added. The mural once had the words “Notice Me,” which are now gone.
Mayor Robert Jackson asked Acting Township Manager Tim Stafford to look into the matter.
Baskerville and other council members said that the person who made the additions to the mural should be identified, with the Fourth Ward representative adding that whoever did it should be treated like any other person who defaces municipal property with graffiti. Then the council discussed whether the BID was responsible for the changes in the mural.
“If we find out that once again the BID is behind it, I would be truly disappointed,” Baskerville said.
In an interview, BID Executive Director Israel Cronk said that neither he or his organization had anything to do with the modifications to the mural. He added that he was contacted by the township on Wednesday, the day after the council meeting.
“I did get a call from the township asking if I had commissioned a new mural, and I definitely did not commission any new mural,” said Cronk, who was critical of the municipality’s talk of prosecution. “I do see people taking pictures of it all the time. It seems like it’s beloved in the community, but I don’t know who did the touch-ups.”
The original Panico mural was completed in 2015 under then-head of the BID Luther Flurry, according to Cronk. It was supposed to be executed in temporary chalk, but as it turned out the chalk was semipermanent, and the drawing remained on the wall, Cronk said.
“So it’s not new,” he said.
At the council meeting Baskerville said that the township’s rules pertaining to graffiti should be upheld and enforced against whoever made changes to the Glenridge Avenue mural. She said that she doubted that the BID would once again be doing work on a mural without town permission.
“I don’t know if that would be the case,” Stafford said, noting that it was Cronk’s predecessor, Flurry, who had come to the council to offer a mea culpa for the first mural as well as an apology that it wouldn’t happen again.
Stafford said that there are possible violations of the law involved with the unapproved additions to the mural, so the township could pursue prosecution or even file a civil action for damages against whoever added the new lettering to it. He also said he could also discuss the situation with the Township Police Department.
Both Jackson and Deputy Mayor Robin Schlager said that prosecution sounded too harsh at this point. The council discussed other options, such as having the person responsible for the updates to the mural be required to paint over it with white paint.
“There are two things to consider,” Third Ward Councilman Sean Spiller said. “There’s ‘This person violated the law and we want to see them punished,’ and I think that’s a debate over here and I’m happy to have that.”
But specific to Glenridge Avenue, Spiller asked whether the culprit should have to do community service, paint over the mural or have any other kind of punishment.
“There needs to be at some point, right, an understanding of that it’s public space … if somebody went and spray painted something else on there, half of the people in this room and the public might think it’s graffiti and half might think it’s art,” Spiller said. “I do think there needs to be processes and procedure.”
Cronk took issue with the discussion of prosecution by the council.
“I’m sure there’s a need for process, but I think the township should really be working to partner up and educate rather than intimidate and penalize,” he said.
“I think its super important to create great partnerships. You know not everybody is well-schooled in the thousands and thousands of pages of ordinances and resolutions, so I think it’s one of those things where we help each other out.”
He added that he’s doing his own investigation to find out who touched up the mural.
“And if need be we’ll go over there and – again, as a good partnership – if the town says, ‘Hey listen, we don’t think it should be up there,’ we’ll paint over it. We’ll have a painting party,” Cronk said.