New mural painted at site of art, free speech debate

Original piece at art store was peeling, so owners had artists put up a new one

tstrickland@thetribunenews.comAugust 4, 2013 

A new mural has been painted on Atascadero’s ARTery. It replaces one that caused a furor last year.

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

It’s been a little more than a year since a mural painted on a downtown Atascadero shop caused quite a stir — and now, a new piece of artwork has taken its place.

A street-art crew from Los Angeles in late July completed the latest mural, about 10 feet tall by 20 feet wide, featuring a large open-mouthed head with a fiery ball of red, orange and yellow escaping onto the side of The ARTery, an art supply shop at 5890 Traffic Way.

It replaces a similar-sized mixed-media piece painted in May 2012 depicting a person sitting under a large tree rendered in neon spray paint. The first mural prompted weeks of public debate with city officials, who wanted the artwork taken down because it didn’t comply with Atascadero’s sign ordinance at the time.

“The attention (over the tree mural) never ended,” said Bill Arkfeld, who owns the shop with his wife. “It got people talking, and it seemed like it helped pull the community together in a way.”

While not everyone loved the mural, critics of the council were upset at the thought of government determining what’s considered a sign and what’s considered art, leading to arguments about free speech.

“The reaction has been so strong,” Arkfeld said.

The public backlash that ensued eventually moved the city attorney to encourage the City Council to exempt murals from Atascadero’s laws, leaving no regulation for such artworks today.

“Not having an ordinance allows for far more creativity,” he said.

With the previous mural beginning to look shabby from peeling paint, the shop owners decided to invite the Los Angeles artists to do a new mural when one of them happened to be in the shop one day looking at spray paint.

The couple had hoped their murals might lead to more in town, but city planners said Friday that no murals have gone up in the past year.

The ARTery owners hope to bring a new color to their building each spring by washing over murals and replacing them with new ones.

“Atascadero really stifles creativity,” Arkfeld said of city regulations. “Everyone does things the same way. My desire is to see them get out of that.”

Stay connected with Tonya Strickland by following @tstrickland on Twitter and visiting www.facebook.com/SLOTribuneNorthCounty.

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