The Hoosierist: Painting Over Murals

Artwork law, remodeling permits, and NCAA tournament selection. Ask The Hoosierist.

Q: If an artist paints a public mural in Indy, does it stay there until the end of time, or can it be painted over?

A: Depends on how long it has been around. Julia Muney Moore, director of public art for the Arts Council of Indianapolis, says her organization tries to avoid potential hassles with new murals by working out agreements between building owners and artists as to who can do what. As for existing ones, federal law protects site-specific pieces from being painted over without first notifying the artist and obtaining consent—but only if the art was installed after 1989. The feds say that a mural technically belongs to the artist for his or her lifetime plus 75 years, after which the work becomes public domain. But here in the rain-soaked, sun-bleached real world, no mural survives that long. Moore does reckon that one executed on a carefully prepared surface and covered in a UV-protective coating would last at least 25 years unmaintained. So no need to start worrying about that fantastic Kurt Vonnegut mural on Mass Ave just yet.

Q: I’m overhauling the inside of my house and my neighbor says I need a permit. Is he right?

A: As long as it’s Mickey Mouse crap like kitchen-cabinet installation, drywall hanging, hardwood-floor sanding, or carpet laying, you’re on your own. But if your rehab involves messing with sewer, water, electrical, or gas lines, or anything that might compromise the structural integrity of the house, the city needs to sign off on your plans. “If it could potentially blow up, electrocute you, or cause your house to fall on you, then we need to take a look at it,” says a frank city code enforcement person who asked to remain nameless. And because the government is involved, you can bet that means hundreds of dollars in administrative fees.

Q: I hear the NCAA men’s basketball tournament selection no longer takes place here. What gives?

A: What gives is that the National Collegiate Athletic Association wanted to make a bigger splash with its March bracketing meeting by moving it to bustling New York City this year. It’s not as if you could hear cows mooing in the background during the previous Indy selection events (or during the Kansas City assemblies before that). But the Big Apple does offer certain advantages that the Midwest does not—including the fact that all of the major media outlets are a cab ride instead of a plane ride away. And when you’re trying to build excitement around what is essentially a glorified PowerPoint presentation, you need all the advantages you can get.


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