Nogales mural sparks controversy

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Nogales mural sparks controversy

CREATED Apr 18, 2012

Reporter:  Jessica Chapin

NOGALES, Ariz. (KGUN9- TV) - An urban mural is sparking outrage in Nogales as residents push to take it down.  The controversy leaves city leaders torn between free speech, property rights, and public disapproval.

"That looks like grafilthy to me.  Not even grafitti," said outraged resident Robert Mendez, who added that a particular depiction of a soldier with skull face offended him deeply.

Meanwhile, residents like Nelli Mallan remain un-phased.

"I have no problem and I come through here every single day," she said.

It's the topic of conversation around town, especially after more than 100 residents signed a petition to take it down.  9 On Your Side reporter Jessica Chapin spoke to the artist, Felix Lawrence about the controversial portion of the mural.

"The only way that I can get freedom of speech is to use private property like this," he said.  Lawrence says he's tried purchasing billboard advertising from a variety of media corporations with no luck.  He said the piece depicting the soldier with the words "Soldiers make war possible, Yankee come home and bring your drones" is a message that means soldiers should take into consideration the war and death to which they contribute when joining the military.

With a VFW less than a block away, that particular piece is gaining a lot of negative attention.

9 On Your Side reporter Jessica Chapin asked Lawrence what it would take for him to change the mural.

"If they were to compensate us and I'm talking thousands of dollars, we might voluntarily remove these if they recognize that our rights have value."  When questioned further, he added, "I'm just suggesting an avenue for compromise, I'm saying we're willing to compromise.  That's just one way to do it, it may not be a good way."

With a petition in the city's hands, 9 On Your Side went to Mayor Arturo Garino to find out how they're handling it.  The mural is on private property, so Garino says the only means of control for them may be with signing ordinances.  However, Garino says they would first like to facilitate a peaceful resolution.

"We're not going in the direction of having it removed unless the property owner is behind it 100 percent," he said, "Yesterday the property owner and the person that circulated the petition met with the deputy city manager at the residence. The property owner says that actually he wants it down."

9 On Your Side tried contacting property owner Manuel Lopez, but several attempts to reach him failed.  Lawrence says they did not come to the conclusion to take down the mural.  He says the city has no legal ground to stand on. 

9 On Your Side also asked Garino about the artist's right to free speech.

"I'm all for free speech," he responded, "but if you have courtesy and if you respect your neighbors and you want something good there, why not get together and work on it?"

That is still the city's plan of action.  As an artist and art instructor himself, Garino says he wants to continue to encourage public art in Nogales.  He says this controversy, however, may lead to a new public art policy for the city.