Standing outside the Multnomah County Courthouse this morning was Joe Cotter—a local muralist who is sticking up for public art in the on-going sign-code dispute Clear Channel has lodged against the City
. Apparently, one of the attorneys for Clear Channel suffered a back injury yesterday, causing a last-minute rescheduling of the closing arguments that were to take place today before Judge Michael Marcus. The new date is March 22, 2007, which goes to show why this conflict has been going on for almost 20 years.
"When I originally asked to be a part of this case," Cotter told me, "it was argued that I would slow things down, but Judge Marcus laughed it off and said, 'Oh, I don't think we have to worry about that here.'" But according to Joanne Oleksiak, who was among us on Southwest 4th Ave. this morning, and who has been working on the outreach part of the public art effort for this case, the delay of the closing arguments and ruling could be result in a tapering off of what has so far been mounting community support for her and Cotter's cause
Either way, come March, the closing argument from the City will be more favorable toward the muralist side of the case than was previously anticipated. In a post-trial memorandum, the attorneys for the City write, "…[G]iven the new evidence regarding the importance of art as a societal interest and the effect of the Court's prior ruling and the City's subsequent amendment to remove its murals exemption, the City wanted to give the Court the opportunity to revisit the rationale for its holding."
More simply, when the inevitable appeal goes down sometime in, like, 2015 or something, there will be more of an effort to create a legal distinction between murals and signs, which is what Cotter has been fighting for all along. And it's a worthwhile fight when you think about it like this: According to Cotter's post trial memorandum, if you took the amount of space dedicated to billboards in the city and compared it to that used for murals, you would find that there are at least 10 times as many ads as paintings, and that's including the thousands of smaller signs around Portland. Such a ratio would never pass in another medium, Cotter argues, "Could you imagine a television station with 6 minutes of programming for every hour of commercials?"
Photo: Scenes of Learning
by Paul Odighizuwa, Charlotte Lewis, Kathy Pennington, located at 4008 NE MLK Blvd.