A painting of the Disney character Minnie Mouse that has graced the south wall of the New South Gallery and Studio on Center Street in Statesville for the past several months must come down.
At an Aug. 18 hearing, the City Council rejected the appeal of Rogelio Calvo and gave the owners seven days to have it removed.
The caricature violated an anti-graffiti law adopted by the city in 2007, requiring building owners to receive permission before an exterior painting can go up.
The proceeding was the first such appeal in the history of the law. “We’re only addressing the process tonight, not the quality of the art itself,” Mayor Costi Kutteh reminded the council before the hearing.
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Calvo had arranged to have a mural of the famous Disney character painted on the exterior gallery wall in May, not realizing that city law required prior permission. Without prior approval, such art is considered graffiti.
Lacking approval, Statesville police notified Louis Gordon, one of the owners, that Minnie was graffiti and they had seven days to either remove the painting or appeal the city’s decision. Calvo appealed.
Councilman Roy West proposed that the painting receive a temporary reprieve while the city planning department fine-tuned the ordinance. His motion received strong support from Councilman Arnold Watt. “This is an unusual situation, and I believe we can come together for the betterment of the entire community.”
However, several other members, including Mayor Pro Tem Michael Johnson, expressed reservations about granting a reprieve, noting the appeal was solely about whether the ordinance’s process had been followed.
For his part, Calvo, a Statesville resident since 1995 and an instructor at Mitchell Community College, defended the painting. “Graffiti and art are not necessarily exclusive of each other,” he told the council. He also said that the process to obtain advance permission could impede an artist’s freedom of expression.
When it came time for the vote, only Councilman Michael Schlesinger joined West and Watt in support of the motion, and it failed, leaving Police Chief Tom Anderson with the duty to see that Minnie Mouse is gone within seven days. “We’ll work with the owner,” he said.
Meanwhile, Kutteh directed Planning Director David Currier to refine the ordinance “to avoid situations like this in the future.”
During the appeal, a number of Calvo’s supporters sat in the audience, some holding signs asking the city to “please save our mouse.” On their way out of the chambers following the vote, Destiny Tsumas of Statesville said she was “not surprised but very disappointed” in the council’s rejection of the appeal. Her pre-teen daughter Addison said simply: “I’m mad.”