Bowery’s Mural Mishap

Artists upset over business owner’s refusal to return painting that was created with the community in mind.

| 10 Aug 2020 | 06:58

Up until late July, colorful murals adorned the windows of Bowery businesses. The Bringing Back Bowery project used the plywood boards put up amid the George Floyd protests as their canvases to bring vibrancy to the neighborhood. But as the demonstrations wound down, and businesses started to open their doors, the murals had to come down.

Sono Kuwayama, who started the project in early June, has found rounding up the art to now display elsewhere or to sell for auction unexpectedly difficult. A few of the pieces have been taken from storefronts, and one storeowner has been unwilling to relinquish the mural in front of his building.

On July 21, three of the murals were stolen off building facades. According to Kuwayama —who watched the incidents via 310 Bowery Bar’s security camera footage — the suspects allegedly came in cargo vans, dressed in reflective vests and hard hats. Using cordless drills, they quickly dismantled the plywood boards and drove off.

Robert Blodgett, whose mural was taken from Bar Primi, filed a police report following the incident but didn’t get far.

“They were very reluctant to take the report,” Blodgett said. He also mentioned that the police repeatedly pushed him to provide a value for the work to classify the theft as either petty or grand larceny, which Blodgett felt wasn’t very relevant.

Another mural was stolen from outside 310 Bowery Bar. The artist, only identified by their Instagram handle @de_zalv, felt that the theft of the piece was part of its story.

“It is up to the streets,” they said. “Public interactions or reactions is a part of it.”

Fight Over Ownership
James Rubio, Hitomi Nakamura and Scooter Laforge were hoping to auction off their mural, “Love Power” in order to raise money for local homeless shelters — but they’ve run into a store owner who is reluctant to let go of their artwork.

David Wu, who owns the men’s clothing store called CÔTE À COAST, feels that “Love Power” has become a part of his branding and wants to keep the work as a memento, according to Kuwayama. After Wu reopened and took down the mural, Kuwayama said she asked him to give the mural back, but Wu refused.

“The artists brought all their own supplies, they brought in all their energy and then we asked permission if we could do this,” Kuwayama said. “I’ve actually written to him to explain that the image is copyrighted.”

CÔTE À COAST did not return multiple requests for comment.

Though the artists were flattered that Wu wanted to keep their work, they said CÔTE À COAST wasn’t the right home for the mural.

“We were thinking if the piece goes to auction, that should raise money for the Bowery Mission,” Rubio said, referring to an organization that serves homeless and hungry New Yorkers. “This was our idea of giving back to (Black Lives Matter) but also supporting our local community.”

Laforge agreed.

“None of this stuff was ever supposed to be property of anyone except for the public,” Laforge said. “I wanted to donate it. I wanted to donate any money that could have been made off this for the homeless people in that area that has grown exponentially over the past few months.”

Fish Cheeks, Three Jewels and Bowery Poetry, which all participated in the project, returned the works to the artists, said Kuwayama. These pieces will be on display at Howl! Arts from Aug. 13 to 23. Ultimately, though, Kuwayama felt that the artist should have the last say over the fate of their work.

“I’d like the mural to be given back to the artist to do what they want to do with it,” she said. “Whether to exhibit or donated to an institution or auction to raise money for a cause that they believe in.”

“None of this stuff was ever supposed to be property of anyone except for the public,” Scooter Laforge.