By Kayla Miron
Neither bullets nor spray paint have permanently harmed Chapel Hill’s eclectic visage, although local artist and Chapel Hill native Michael Brown has had to repair murals damaged by both.
A local vandal recently added his or her mark to Chapel Hill’s artistic display by spray painting expletives over a local mural. While the damage currently marrs the town’s welcoming image, the town and local police have taken steps to ensure the mural’s speedy restoration.
Brown created the artwork in question, known to many as “The Football Mural,” and is working with town officials to repair it. He has done this type of restoration numerous times. A disturbed shooter once shattered part of one of Brown’s murals, but more often than not, time and belligerent drunks inflict mural damage. Because of his experience with this type of cleanup, Brown does not believe that this graffiti poses a significant threat to local artistry.
“ It’s just unfortunate stupidity is all,” Brown said. “It’ll be fixed in a month and I think the obscenity of it will be painted over in the next few days.”
The infrequency of these attacks illustrates the town’s reverence for its art scene. The murals peppered throughout downtown Chapel Hill have become integral to the community in a relatively brief period. When Brown returned to Chapel Hill in 1988 after living away for many years, bare walls dominated the town’s countenance.
A town art commission formed around that time after the community responded positively to Brown’s first mural in the area. The commission works to provide funding for local muralists.
This commission’s continued existence serves to show residents and visitors the value of the arts in Chapel Hill. The presence of artwork adds local flair. It draws passersby into art without them having to seek it out.
“I would be stoked if my murals created any interest among people that enjoy looking at that style of public art but I am perfectly happy just to be able to contribute,” said Scott Nurkin, a local artist and former apprentice of Brown. “In my perfect world, all of the dirty walls in town would be filled up with amazing work by tons of great local artists because we are packed with them around here.”
For many, murals’ uniquity lies in their ability to integrate art into city life. Those too busy or too disinterested to bring art into their own lives unknowingly immerse themselves in it as they walk down the streets. Brown thrives on this accidental immersion.
“I try to make the work accessible so people, instead of saying ‘I don’t like art, I don’t like museums,’ become engaged and amused and maybe brought into some of the more interesting aspects of the work by some of the more fun and easy and accessible aspects of the work,” Brown said.
While the commission brings necessary art exposure to the community, recently it has shied away from controversial or content-heavy work. The commission evaluates a variety of factors when choosing murals to endorse. It often, however, allows a work’s ability to hold universal appeal to overpower its artistic ingenuity. While Brown celebrates the commission’s existence, he mourns the lack of drive for complex artwork.
“It’s good to have funding and it’s good to have funding from a variety of programs, but I think that sometimes not every work is as bold or creative or fun as it could be,” Brown mused. “It’s only a few thousand dollars. If it was a big fiasco and the town was all up in arms and hated it, you’d just paint it out.”
Even with a politically-correct angle, diverse murals continue to thrive in Chapel Hill. The town’s dedication to art will hopefully continue to bleed onto its walls long after the current generation of muralists wring out their brushes.