The Charlottesville Board of Architectural Review has granted conditional approval for a mural near the site of a car attack that killed Heather Heyer and injured dozens of other counter-protesters at a white supremacist rally Aug. 12.
The approval came despite concerns from some that the design had not received enough public scrutiny in advance.
“I do think this is a good location for a mural in general,” BAR member Breck Gastinger said at the panel’s meeting Tuesday. “I also do not think that we are the appropriate body to debate the value of the particular content.”
The request from the Charlottesville Mural Project sought to cover the entire northern side of 321 E. Main St. with an image created by acclaimed artist Shepard Fairey.
The BAR asked for the dimensions to be reduced.
“We’ve said how big the canvas can be, but we still need to see what the final result is,” BAR member Timothy Mohr said. “The color and general composition we see right now is acceptable, but [the] shape is going to probably compel some kind of change to the design.”
Fairey’s design is of a leaf with seven blades. Heyer’s face adorns the middle one and four other faces are depicted within others.
“There are some conversations about the faces that will be depicted in addition to Heather’s on the mural,” said Alan Goffinski, director of the Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative.
“The artist is of the opinion [the subjects] should remain anonymous in order to point to the reality that this is a situation that requires inclusion from the entire community,” he added.
Lisa Woolfork, an associate professor of English at the University of Virginia, called for the BAR to reject the mural until issues of racial justice in the community can be addressed in its design.
“I organize with Black Lives Matter and was on the ground on Aug. 11 and Aug. 12,” Woolfork said. “This will be an installation that will derive its power from an interpretation of events that have forever marked this community. It is crucial that broader community input be considered here.”
A draft rendering that ran in Tuesday’s Daily Progress is not the one shown to the BAR or the public. The actual concept was not made available until the day of the meeting.
“I think there are some issues with how much the public has been able to digest this,” said BAR member Justin Sarafin.
Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, said she supports the project.
“It’s not my design but I do like it,” Bro said. “I want something that represents the crowd and not Heather. I think Heather is getting too much attention, personally. She was only one of many people there that day.”
BAR members were generally supportive but said they could not make any pronouncements about what ends up in the final design.
Goffinski said the project is on a tight schedule and any delay might doom it.
“I believe that this project is likely to not happen,” Goffinski said. “I understand this is kind of a rushed and less-than-ideal process.”
“The intention of Shepard is to give this free of cost to Charlottesville,” he added. “His timeline regarding this is difficult. My intention has never been a lack of transparency.”
BAR member Emma Earnst suggested that the mural could be reduced in size.
“It would help to be pushed off the edges a little,” Earnst said. “I think it would help make the message a little clearer, as well.”
Goffinski said the changes still could end up nixing the project. BAR members said it would be important to take the time to get the design right.
“Because there are potential community issues, to have it come back to the next review is an actual opportunity for that dialogue to play out if it needs to,” Sarafin said. “I feel like for us to give a full approval tonight sidesteps any of that public participation in this.”
BAR members also recommended that if Goffinski needs to shorten the timeline, he could try to appeal the action to the City Council.
“If the applicant does not agree with those conditions, that is essentially the same as a denial, and that you can appeal to City Council,” Sarafin said.