A former Scottsdale councilman is pushing the city to institute a mural policy following a battle between a downtown property owner and artists over a mural depicting the late Sen. John McCain.
Known as the Maverick Mural, the red, white and blue artwork would have depicted McCain’s face in the foreground and the Arizona flag in the background. The larger image would have been made up of 30,000 small images of copper, cattle, citrus, cotton and climate.
The mural, which was funded through Kickstarter, was a collaboration involving artist Aaron Bass, local property owner Lee Marvin and architecture firm Chen + Suchart Studio.
The mural was set to go on the wall of a building owned by Marvin on Marshall Way near 5th Avenue. Marvin’s building borders a parking lot owned by Dewey Schade, who opposed it.
The mural remains partially-finished on the wall and will likely be painted over in the coming months after Schade and former Councilman David Ortega successfully petitioned Council in January to review the Design Review Board’s original approval.
Ortega, a long-time Scottsdale architect, confirmed to the Progress that Schade paid him for representation before the city on the mural issue.
Following multiple continuances, the mural team pulled its application from council at the end of June.
Among other complaints, Ortega argued the artists would have to cross onto Schade’s property to complete the mural.
Photos of artist Aaron Bass working on the mural appear to show him using a scissor lift to avoid stepping foot on Schade’s property.
Ortega also complained that the colors did not match the character of the area and were not in line with the city’s guidelines for downtown.
Bass said he is still considering multiple locations in Scottsdale for the mural but that the project could be moved to Phoenix.
“But really there’s been a number of people in the City of Phoenix who have reached out and said we would love it here,” Bass said. “They’re really wanting to embrace it.”
As it stands, the unfinished mural remains on the wall in downtown Scottsdale.
Phoenix New Times reported that after Bass pulled his application, Scottsdale City Planner Andrew Chi contacted Marvin and Bass asking them to repaint the wall back to its original color.
Bass said that is not going to happen.
“We did everything under the rules and guidelines set by the city of Scottsdale — I’ll just put it that way,” Bass said. “So, I think it’s on them to do anything if they would want it.”
Until a resolution is found, the city could step in to get the wall repainted.
Schade said the city verbally offered to bring in a city crew or third party to do the job.
“We are exploring options,” said Randy Grant, Scottsdale’s executive director for Planning, Economic Development and Tourism. Given the contentious nature of this project, the city may be an intermediary in some capacity to resolve the unfinished mural. At this point, I’m not sure what that involvement will entail.”
Schade said he would like to see a plan first before agreeing to allow painters to come on his property, but he would likely give permission.
“I told (Randy Grant) I would cooperate in every way to facilitate this type of thing,” Schade said. “It seems like a win-win for everybody, because the wall will be returned to the original color.”
Ortega is now pushing the city to implement mural-specific guidelines rather than having muralists advance through the standard city staff and design-review process.
“(The) Maverick mural exposed Scottsdale’s need for a clear Mural Policy and staff guideline, without the drama,” Ortega said.
Ortega suggested the new rules could regulate the size and location of murals. He would also like to see rules put in place about what paint and materials can be used to ensure durability.
Addressing the Maverick Mural issue specifically, Ortega said the city should also look at the political nature of specific murals and codify protections for private property owners that ban murals on walls with a zero-lot line.
Schade thinks those rules could help avoid a repeat of the Maverick situation.
“I think my case highlights why something has be done on this thing,” Schade said. “This should’ve never happened.”
Bass said the existing design-review process is already fairly onerous and includes public outreach, a pre-application, fees and plan reviews by city staff and DRB.
“They act like there’s nothing that’s in place. It’s actually a pretty big process to go through,” Bass said.
Still, Bass said he is not opposed to the city taking a look at new mural guidelines if it could simplify the process — though he does not think that would be the case if Ortega is driving the new guidelines.
If the City of Scottsdale does consider new rules for muralists, artists should be a part of that conversation, Bass said.
“I hope that if they do try to put forth some sort of code or something like this, that they do actually invite other muralists that have a lot of experience with this, because if it’s just David Ortega putting forth something, I don’t trust it,” Bass said.
One thing both Bass and Ortega agreed on is that any process should include considerable public outreach.
The Design Review Board will likely look into the issue this fall after Ortega asked Councilman Guy Phillips to look into his proposal.
“I will be chairing the DRB in September and plan on asking the DRB to look into a mural guideline policy that they can bring to Council for approval,” Phillips said.
It is unclear how much support mural guidelines would have with the larger council.
Mayor Jim Lane does not see a need for a new mural policy.
According to a statement provided by the mayor’s office “if policy guidelines come forward to Council, (Lane would) be fine with discussing the matter with an open mind, but at this time he doesn’t see the need for additional regulation and thinks the current staff review/DRB process is sufficient.”