Council questions mural designs

Coast Guard People Mural Elizabeth City
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Shown is one of two proposed designs for a mural that private citizens want to pay to post on the side of a building at Elizabeth City's Coast Guard Park off Riverside Avenue.

Coast Guard Aircraft Mural Elizabeth City

By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Saturday, November 18, 2017

While City Council agrees displaying murals at U.S. Coast Guard Park is a nice idea, they’re not impressed with the suggested designs.

During Monday's council meeting, Elizabeth City Downtown Inc. Executive Director Deborah Malenfant explained that three citizens have offered to donate Coast Guard-themed murals to the park located off Riverside Avenue.

Malenfant recounted that, last year, ECDI board member Everett Thompson suggested the idea of a Coast Guard-themed mural at an ECDI meeting, and subsequently he, his wife, Dru, and local Realtor Phyllis Bosomworth agreed to pay for the murals, a donation she valued at more than $7,000. Based on feedback from city staff and Coast Guard officials, and after several different designs, Malenfant presented draft mural designs to council on Monday.

One mural design shows Coast Guard planes and helicopters, while the other shows Coast Guard mechanics and rescue swimmers while training. The murals try to represent both the equipment and the people vital to the Coast Guard, Malenfant said.

The upper left corner of the mural that features people would also include the message “Welcome to Coast Guard Park,” plus a large Elizabeth City logo and a smaller Parks and Recreation Department logo.

Malenfant said the murals would be digitally printed onto panels, which would then be mounted on the large, metal building at Coast Guard Park. Rather than display the murals on the street sides of the building, Malenfant said they would be most visible from the sides of the building facing the water.

Councilors strongly criticized the designs, however. Mayor Joe Peel and Councilor Jean Baker said they had expected a painted mural, not a collection of photographs.

“It doesn't look like a mural; is it possible for them to paint something?” Councilor Jean Baker said. “I just think we can do better.”

Peel described the murals as more like “poster art,” and described the project as an opportunity to showcase the city's support for both the Coast Guard and local artists. He also noted that the murals, while a private donation, would make a public statement about Elizabeth City.

“It's going to talk about who we are as a town,” Peel said.

Councilor Rickey King also called for different imagery, suggesting the proposed murals look like a “recruiting ad” for the Coast Guard.

Focusing on the mural of people, Councilor Tony Stimatz objected to what he said was its lack of diversity. The mural depicts few minorities and no women, he noted. He also criticized the murals for unused, empty space and called for them to be redesigned.

Stimtaz also said the murals' planners should have involved Community Development Director Matthew Schelly, who he noted is involved in planning for the city’s waterfront. Schelly should provide input on a project that will help define the waterfront and send a message about how Elizabeth City sees itself, Stimatz said.

Stimatz also called for the mural to be showcased on the street sides of the park's building, arguing it needs to be where people will be close enough to see it clearly.

Stimatz and Councilor Johnnie Walton also debated whether the city should display any logos or messages on the mural. Based on City Manager Rich Olson's estimate that the city has invested $300,000 in Coast Guard Park over the years — and is spending more to offer kayaking there next year — Walton said the mural should recognize the city.

Stimatz agreed the city should be recognized for building the park, but it should not force private citizens to pay for that messaging.

“I don't think it's fair to them to take their money to put our sign on their mural,” Stimatz said.

Councilor Ray Donnelly said he had “mixed feelings” about telling private citizens to change something they like. If the murals are painted, however, he said local artists should perform the work.

Councilwoman Anita Hummer, council’s mayor pro tem, was critical of fellow councilors’ reaction to the mural designs. She noted Elizabeth City is recognized as a Coast Guard City and the council should discuss the project more carefully.

“It's a very generous gift to start with and we've just about torn it to pieces,” she said.

Responding to Hummer, Councilor Michael Brooks agreed with other councilors that, while a donation, the mural would still reflect on Elizabeth City.

Council voted unanimously to table discussion on the murals.

At Thursday's ECDI meeting, Malenfant reported she's going to back to the Thompsons and Bosomworth to discuss their expectations for the project and where it should go from here.

Coast Guard Cmdr. Randy Meador, who was in attendance at the ECDI meeting, also said he had concerns about the mural depicting Coast Guard service members. Initial discussions about the project involved Meador's predecessor, Cmdr. Bruce Brown.