Detroit has long been known as a city with some fight in it. Whether it’s the blue collar reputation it received in its automotive heyday, the prominent music scenes that emerged from it over the decades, or the people who refuse to leave even now, when the city’s bankruptcy has made it more decay than growth. But Detriot and its proud residents continue to soldier on every day, including a very famous visual artist, Katherine Craig.
Back in 2009, before much of the problems that have made Detroit headline news around the world, Katherine Craig painted one of the city’s most defining murals: a piece that many call “bleeding Rainbow” but is officially titled The Illuminated Mural. The piece has become synonymous with Detroit itself, appearing on postcards and other memorabilia, and has been featured in many articles and pieces about Detroit’s graffiti scene. The Illuminated Mural itself takes up a single wall of a nine-storey building and looks like a melting series of colours. The Detroit Free Press even called it “maybe Detroit’s most drop-dead gorgeous mural” in a recent article.
The owner’s of the mural’s building, however, are looking to tear down the piece in a redevelopment project, effectively destroying the mural in an attempt to build some condo buildings. It’s a move that much of the city opposes, but almost no one more so than Craig herself. She believes the piece, besides the fact it’s the cornerstone of her career, deserves a place in history, and to stay alive no matter what the building’s owners decide to do. She believes this so much, in fact, that she’s suing said owners.
Craig is invoking an often forgotten piece of legislation called “The Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA)”. The act protects artworks of “recognized stature,” such as murals and street art,from destruction. This includes destruction that’s either “intentional or grossly negligent.”
So far, the move has stalled any action by the developer to the building, and the high profile nature of the case could make them reconsider their plans, but Craig’s lawsuit stands for something much greater than just her own mural, even though the gorgeous piece deserves to be around for more than a mere seven years. What Craig’s case is arguing is for the preservation of history, of the tangible value of street art. Since so many murals are made and consumed outside of the traditional capitalist structures, it becomes something with an undetermined value. Compared to paintings in a gallery with price tags on the corners, a mural has no price, just intrinsic value, and Craig’s case is arguing such a value is not only real, but worth preserving. Whatever the final decision, Craig’s brave actions are another example of street art’s value.