Murfreesboro mural stirs controversy

Published 4:22 pm Monday, February 23, 2009

MURFREESBORO — The final decision of a mural commissioned by Mayor Lynn Johnson for the Murfree Center now lies in the hands of the Murfreesboro Town Council.

On Tuesday, Mayor Johnson pitched her idea to members of the Murfreesboro Beautification Commission (MBC) and they voted 3-1 to recommend to the Council to allow the mural to be painted.

However, Johnson’s commission of the mural does not come without controversy as work had already begun on the project without approval by MBC and council members.

At their last meeting held on Feb. 10, council members were informed of the Mayor’s desire to have the mural painted in the Murfree Center, a town-owned building often rented out for private and public events.

Meanwhile, work on the mural by artist Martha McDuffie Gibson had already started without the project going before the sanctioned governing bodies.

During her report to council in the Feb. 10 meeting, Johnson said she had a commissioned a mural to be painted.

She showed council members and those in the audience alike a rendering of the mural, a garden-like scene with a gazebo in the background.

The mural would be painted on the far back wall of the center, in the alcove near the kitchen. Johnson said two lights would be positioned to illuminate the mural.

While no town funds would be used to pay for the mural (Johnson would pay for the work), council members noted the project would have to go through the proper channels; first to the MBC and then to council.

“Do we want anything on the walls when different people use the center” asked Council member Gloria Odum.

Mayor Pro-tem Molly Eubank suggested the project go before the MBC.

MBC Chairperson Berna Stephens, who was in attendance at the council meeting, agreed to place the item on the commission’s Feb. 17 agenda.

Odum noted Johnson had done great things in the past, but she was uneasy about the mayor doing what she wanted with the Murfree Center.

“I’m concerned about that…because we (council) are the custodians of that building,” she said to Johnson. “I’m uncomfortable giving that authority to the mayor (in general), and that’s not just you.”

At Tuesday’s MBC meeting, Johnson, joined by Gibson presented the project to commission members, including Stephens, Walter Thomas, Craig Daniel, Lillie Owens-White and Betty Liverman.

Johnson noted how murals often made towns a destination spot.

“There are towns that have tours,” she said. “It was something that brought people to town.”

Gibson noted art displayed around town could attract businesses that, according to her, look for history, art and culture elements within communities.

Gibson is well-known for her work in the area. In Virginia she has worked on numerous projects for municipalities, including Franklin and Norfolk.

Johnson noted in her presentation she had previously been given the authority to decorate the Murfree Center and that authority had been given in open session and closed session.

Town Administrator Cathy Davison said she would search past meeting minutes that granted that authority.

While Liverman and Dennis voiced support for the mural, others raised concerns about whether the mural was appropriate for a community meeting place.

Stephens questioned if the mural was too much for the building that was utilized by all types of people.

“Is it neutral enough for all occasions?” she questioned.

Owens-White also voiced a similar concern, wondering if all people would have an input.

Johnson and Gibson suggested a curtain be placed in front of the mural so that if a patron of the center wanted to they could cover the mural.

Stephens said she would abstain from the vote.

The remaining MBC members gave their votes and in a 3-1 vote (Thomas objected) agreed to recommend to the council to have the mural painted.

Johnson also spoke about window treatments she had donated awhile ago and are currently displayed in the center. She added that it was mentioned by council to get the MBC’s approval.

MBC members approved the window treatments.

A MBC report is listed on the council’s upcoming agenda for Tuesday, Feb. 24.

As of Friday, Davison said she has not found the council’s decision Johnson was referring to that gave the mayor authorization to decorate the Murfree Center. Davison did find the formation of a Murfree Center Committee on Dec. 5, 2005, which would have been the council’s organization meeting.