Empower Wisconsin | Aug. 13, 2020
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Hey, Madison taxpayers. Your bill is in for the “debt of gratitude” your liberal city leaders say you owe to the commissioned artists who painted murals on boarded-up State Street storefronts smashed by “peaceful protesters.”
Taxpayers, through the Municipal Art Fund, paid 64 muralists a combined $39,000, according to expenditure information obtained by Empower Wisconsin. More than 100 collaborators assisted in the murals that include paintings of Malcolm X, and self-promotion opportunist and has-been NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Black Lives Matter messages are prominently featured, along with other socialist justice slogans, such as “The U.S. Prison System Is Legalized Slavery.”
One mural proclaims, “We rise by lifting others.” It was painted on the wood plank-protected edifice of a State Street convenience store — owned by immigrants — that was picked clean by looters and nearly burned to the ground on at least three separate occasions during the Black Lives Matter protests of May 31-June 1.
Bill Fruhling, principal planner for the city of Madison, said not all the murals were commissioned by the city.
“Some were done by property owners themselves. Some of them were graffiti, so calling them murals is not accurate,” he said.
Fruhling did not know how many of the murals were commissioned by the city. Madison Arts Administrator Karin Wolf was not available for comment Wednesday.
In a June press release effusively praising the art initiative, Wolf said 100 murals were completed. The artists received “modest stipends,” according to the release.
The city’s art administrator said artists were given “open canvases without fear of censorship or reprisal” — with the exception of commercial messages and nudity in the art piece.
“State Street is always changing; but it has never looked like this before,” proclaimed the upbeat statement issued a couple of weeks after rioters ripped through Madison’s iconic downtown shopping district.
“In just under two weeks, this well-loved, iconic street transformed from a place of damage and destruction to a place of powerful art and community expression,” the press release beamed.
Of course, art wasn’t going to save business owners already reeling from a pandemic and the heavy-handed lockdown orders issued by the Evers administration and Madison health officials. After the businesses were nearly knocked out by the riots, Madison City Council members rejected an aid package that would have helped State Street retailers recover, with some alders essentially blaming the store owners for their “white privilege.”
Alas, the murals weren’t painted to last, at least on State Street buildings. The project was designed to be a temporary “fix” for the punched out windows and battered walls that transformed State Street from a shopping destination to an eyesore.
“Quite a few of the murals have come down, as things are starting to reopen,” Fruhling. “It’s largely up to the property owners when they feel comfortable taking those down.”
For now, the city is collecting the painted boards. What it will do with the murals has yet to be determined.
“Our community owes a large debt of gratitude to over 100 artists who created 100 murals,” Wolf said in the press release.
Taxpayers, particularly State Street business owners, can be forgiven for asserting they have more than paid the debt in full.