We could all do with a little more color in our lives.
In recent months, a mural on the sidewalk in Takoma Park has become the subject of fierce local debate over public space. The mural, painted by children during the pandemic, was considered play art by some and graffiti by others. After a long coming and going of the neighborhood, the city power washed art.
The controversy over the sidewalk mural is ultimately about much more than the painting itself. How we address violations of municipal rules and how we discuss these departures matters to the kind of community we are building together. In our opinion, we can do much better than the too rigid approach of the city and the far too heated tenor of the neighborhood discourse around the work of art.
The sidewalk mural was a product of the COVID-19 quarantine. After the city canceled a professionally painted artwork in March 2020, a Takoma Park mother brought together children from her neighborhood to create their own mural. Thanks to latex paint donated by another community member, the ‘movement walk’ has come to feature a rainbow of hand-painted native plants, fungi and pollinators, like the Baltimore butterfly Checkerspot. The neighborhood also painted an “obstacle course” for children depicting the solar system.
The mural may not be Van Gogh or Banksy, but it is undeniably charming. This is children’s art. Understood in its circumstances, art takes on a kind of depth. The mural came together as we spent more time indoors than with each other, a particularly distressing time for the children. This sidewalk painting embodies a bit of collaborative childhood joy that managed to persist even when forces beyond our control kept us apart. The mural got kids outside, off their phones and away from screens. In our view, this resilience is worth celebrating, not destroying.
We’re sympathetic to those who wonder why the parent supervising the art didn’t try to get a permit or city approval first. But that kind of process doesn’t yet exist for that kind of sidewalk art in Takoma Park. What’s on the books, however, is a vague municipal rule about graffiti and how it “depreciates the value of the property affected.” After a complaint about the artwork, the city of Takoma Park opted to enforce the rule and remove the mural.
Not all local regulations are strictly enforced. It would be strange for our local officials to prosecute every jaywalker or every driver going 1 mile over the speed limit, even though both acts are crimes. There are far more pressing issues that we expect our government to focus on. And as the Supreme Court has established, “the machinery of government would not work if it were not allowed to play a little in its joints.” The laws our local government chooses to prioritize reflect what it values.
In this case, we think Takoma Park should have valued a bit of childhood joy over a strict adherence to bureaucracy and regulations. The city could easily have temporarily exempted the mural while it worked to establish a system for approving art projects like the march in motion. The response of some city officials – to designate the settlement as frozen and sacred and say there is nothing they can do – is not the way our local government should respond to the community.
Unfortunately, in recent weeks the public debate over sidewalk art has heated up disappointingly, with some neighbors attacking the children who painted the mural and others attempting to harm the livelihoods of those in the area. other side of the disagreement.
We should all commit to doing our part to lower the temperature of these types of debates. We can work together to foster productive conversations without name-calling or personalization. Our national political discourse is ugly enough: we don’t need to replicate any of it here at home.
At the end of the day, the sidewalk art has already been washed away. What matters now is how we respond to the next kind of march of the movement – in politics and in dialogue. For the heart of our county, we hope the collective response prioritizes community above all else.
Rising Voices is an occasional column by John F. Kennedy High School graduate Nate Tinbite; Ananya Tadikonda, a graduate of Richard Montgomery High School; and Matt Post, a graduate of Sherwood High School. All three are recent student members of the Montgomery County School Board.
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