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WNC muralists applaud NY judge's ruling that graffiti is art

A recent court decision is pitting property owners against artists after a federal judge fined a developer millions of dollars for covering up graffiti on his own building. Now, local artists are paying close attention to this case. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

A recent court decision is pitting property owners against artists after a federal judge fined a developer millions of dollars for covering up graffiti on his own building. Now, local artists are paying close attention to this case.

Asheville's River Arts District is home to one of the area's most recognized pieces of public art -- the "good vibes" silo. It was created, with permission, by muralist Ian Wilkinson, who said the New York ruling is big.

"It just validates what we're doing," Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson and many others are basking in the glow of what happened in a federal courtroom in New York.

The 5Pointz complex in the Bronx had been a graffiti landmark known to artists everywhere.

Basing its decision on a violation of the Visual Artists Rights Act, which protects public art of "recognized stature," a jury ruled a developer had no right to paint over it all before demolition. He was supposed to wait 90 days to give artists time to salvage what someday might've been considered fine art.

"They were protected under this VARA Act, because of that, because the developer came in early, before people really had a chance to get in there and document their work, they may have covered up the Mona Lisa, you just don't know," said Wilkinson, who was braving a cloudy and chilly day to work on a mural commissioned by Urban OrchardCcider Co.

RiverLink's land conservation land manager RJ Taylor sees both sides of the coin at the old cotton mill site.

"We've had a lot of graffiti artists that have come in and tagged it over the years," he said.

What's art to some is graffiti and city fines and the cost of removal for others

"There's artistic integrity here, artistic style, but at the same time, if it's done without permission of the landowner, obviously, it's going to deface their property," Taylor said.

Over in West Asheville, one developer is making the best of property sprayed without approval, combining this paint with the new Beacham's Curve development.

"We have to screen our dumpsters and have certain hardscape and buffer, and we're going to salvage these pieces and use them and repurpose them into the project," Beacham's Curve developer Jim Diaz said.

"What happened in 5Pointz, you know, you might've covered up a Vincent Van Gough or a Rembrandt there, we just don't know yet," Wilkinson said.

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