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2013 seems to be shaping up as San Diego's year of the great billboard battle, as noted here earlier this week in Dorian Hargrove's report about the intense behind the scenes lobbying at city hall for high tech electronic signage, super huge billboards, and various definitions of art proposed for north of Broadway downtown.

The Downtown Partnership along with David Ehrlich and Jeff Marston of FinWater Advisors are requesting that city councilmembers create the San Diego Arts and Entertainment District, a 65-block swath of Downtown San Diego that would become home to now-illegal illuminated billboards, off-site advertising, and installations from local artists.

The move for more outdoor advertising has its critics, including attorney Pamela Wilson.

"San Diego needs to continue to strive to be an even more beautiful city than it already is, not add garish clutter by lifting the 30-year-old ban on new billboards."

"Digital billboards, wraps, rotating tri-faces and other distractions may be the last gasp of an ad medium going the way of the dinosaurs. You can put lipstick on a pig but it's still a pig. Or, as we like to say 'litter on a stick.'"

Latest to join the war over outdoor graphics is an outfit called ArchitectureArt, which has retained the services of William A. Adams and Paul McNeil according to a lobbyist disclosure report posted online yesterday by the San Diego city clerk's office.

The lobbyists are attempting to change the municipal code "to allow greater leeway re murals," according to their filing.

According to ArchitectureArt's website, the firm has been extending the creative envelope of the great outdoors.

In America, to earn one’s livelihood as an “artist” is a daunting task. Most artists are forced to find jobs outside of the arts, to support their artistic pursuit. ArchitectureArt was founded with the vision of creating a haven for Fine Artists to make their craft their career, while energizing the streetscape with our spectacular murals.

Until the 1970’s, hand-painted signs and murals were the norm in this country. But with the advent of large-format printing, and the quiet passing of a generation of venerated muralists, this skill set has become virtually extinct. We are proud to be reviving and preserving this unique art form, while contributing to the artistic and economic vitality of our cities.

Reached by phone this morning, ArchitectureArt's Pam Anderson said Adams was hired to convince the city to allow it proceed with a mural for Blue Moon beer, owned by Chicago-based MillerCoors, on the side of a downtown Market Street building where Bootlegger, a trendy bar, is located.

According to Anderson, the company's previous permission from the city to paint the mural was abruptly rescinded, leaving the project only partially completed.

Anderson notes that the mural contains no animation or video and argues that it is protected by the free speech provisions of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

In any case, she maintains, it complies with the city's so-called on-premise sign restrictions because it is on the side of a building that houses a bar that serves Coors products.

As reported here last December, several of the nation's largest billboard companies, including Lamar Advertising and Capitol Outdoor, Inc., have retained local lobbyists to argue their case at city hall for so-called digital billboards.

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Also among those who have expressed interest in putting up bigger and jazzier signs is U-T San Diego publisher Douglas Manchester, whose plan last year to erect a giant video screen and electronic ticker tape display at the top of the newspaper's Misson Valley headquarters were resisted by then-mayor Jerry Sanders.

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Comments

monaghan May 25, 2013 @ 6:38 p.m.

There's a big difference between advertising -- billboards, videos and wraps -- and mural art. The former have explicit commercial purpose (litter-on-a-stick) and the latter are about artistic expression, food-for-thought and urban beautification. The private La Jolla Community Foundation has financed an ambitious program of mural art throughout the village's business district in the last few years -- and every work is an interesting surprise without any mercantile message.

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Javajoe25 May 25, 2013 @ 8:49 p.m.

"Without any mercantile message" is exactly what the guiding principle should be with this issue.

Moonie beer messages, colorful though they may be, are still meant to sell the product and should be avoided at all costs. Let the artists bring the art to the buildings but let's not be deceived into allowing what is essentially commercial graffiti. I think some clever marketeers see an opportunity here to get some free advertising under the banner of "Art." I hope local residents do not fall for it.

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streetartists May 26, 2013 @ 9:36 p.m.

My name is Pam, and our team of artists are those which painted this spectacular mural - and are working to promptly complete it once our permit approvals are reinstated. San Diego enjoys a long love affair with murals - everywhere you look - walls, fences, even utility boxes - lavishly painted! Yet the cost to fund public art of this scale and caliber is huge! For example, the city itself last year spent a whopping $126,000 of taxpayer dollars commissioning a mural, located underneath the 1-5 underpass at Rosecrans. Unless you happen to drive under this particular underpass, you will never see it - which is a shame, as for that kind of money it should be seen! It's easy to say "hey, just let artists paint murals" - but just as with any profession: who will pay for it? Just like everyone else, as artists we have bills to pay and mouths to feed. Painting a canvas the size of this wall requires costly equipment, insurance, materials, labor, and frankly a ton of talent. Rather than tap scarce city resources for public art, how exceptional for San Diego that this Patron stepped up, and was willing to bring this colorful Still Life to Downtown. This wall was formerly a blank, boring brick facade doing nothing for the city. We have transformed it into amazing artwork which East Village has overwhelmingly embraced. In the time we have been painting our murals in San Diego, we have received not a single criticism, ever. The public has been in awe of our work and for many, it is the only "Museum" they will ever see. But don't take my word - just walk the street at Market & 8th and ask anyone you see - from Floyd's Barbershop to The District to Lotus Thai to J Wok and of course the Bootlegger Bar - East Village LOVES what we are doing for San Diego. Thank you for allowing this input, and thank you to Matt Potter for an even-handed reporting of this issue.

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Dean May 27, 2013 @ 9:36 a.m.

Although I do think the Blue Moon mural is cool, the actual fact is that it is not public art-it is a billboard disguised as an art project. One can be assured that once this type of commercial 'wallscape' message is permitted and becomes the norm, the billboard companies CBS, Clear Channel, and Lamar will be screaming 'foul' and attempt to overturn the ban on off-site advertising billboards and use these 'art murals' as precedent. Check out downtown Phoenix where they are turning what was a clean and attractive area into a gaudy jungle of cheesy vinyl wallscapes; or check out Brooklyn where they are gentrifying neighborhoods with real wall art containing NO commercial messages (how do they do it without corporate sponsorship?).

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monaghan May 27, 2013 @ 10:11 p.m.

We like our artists working, not starving -- but not plastering whole swaths of downtown with commercial "wallscapes" to stay in Top Ramen. We have a ban on off-site outdoor advertising: let's stick with it to avoid setting negative precedent. In LA a few years ago even residential structures were getting "wrapped" until public outcry ended it. Surely downtown San Diego condo dwellers would not want all-night blinking video displays outside their bedroom windows.

Maybe the Mayor's new improved arts budget has funding that would allow systematic beautification of every electrical box and sidewalk excrescence throughout the city. Funds would go farther than they do on a single mural, the work would be highly visible and it would be widely appreciated.

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AllenT May 28, 2013 @ 11:35 a.m.

I happened to be walking on Market when this mural was being painted. It was incredible to watch the artists at work. Who cares if it is sponsored by a beer company. It brings art and vibe to downtown. It's also better than our tax dollars having to fund such stuff. If this is the same group that has been painting other murals on this building then they are an amazing group of artists.

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jelula May 31, 2013 @ 9:35 p.m.

As posted by someone earlier, there's a tremendous difference between murals and digital billboards (or billboards of any nature). Non-commercial murals can add valuable elements of public art to our community. Digital (or other) billboards are meant solely to sell more people more things, pure and simple.

What many people in the video seem unaware of is that the digital billboards will be 85% commercial advertising, mostly advertising for off-premises sales interests. Only 15% of the time would there be information about cultural activities and public art. The small percentage of income from the digital billboards that is being offered to the City to benefit cultural activities is no more than purchasing our visual space for commercial purposes, a 'bribe' if you will, disguised as a gift.

Many citizens of San Diego worked for many years to achieve adoption of the 1983 sign ordinance, which limits on-premises signs to advertising said premises, and also limits the nature of the signs (no flashing lights, rotating displays and other 'active' elements). All of us are bombarded unceasingly with advertising, on tv, on the radio, in the papers, in the mail, on the internet, ad nauseum. We must resist turning our public views over to more advertising and insist on improving public spaces with public art and landscaping which provide a respite from an otherwise over-busy, often noisy & mostly hardscaped urban world.

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scottlaw57 June 9, 2013 @ 12:06 p.m.

This is just a ploy by big city government to exercise their authority in this situation, it’s obvious here that the city has overstepped their legal bounds. This is a beautiful mural, warm, professional and pleasing to most that see it and there is NO suggestion of an advertiser or product to be sold. The city could use more art around town reflecting cultural and historical tones of the community. I concur with other posts that the First Amendment has been bruised in this situation by unfair government interests. I completely understand the city's argument if the mural advertises a brand, product and subject to non-compliance but that's not the case. Murals in good taste like these can easily "beautify" the area, and no doubt pleasing to our eyes, state of mind.

Come on City government - what's with you folks anyway? On one hand you guys spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of “public funds” approving art for "public display", yet have no problem whatsoever slamming a small company/artist who has complied with your many regulations. The city has overstepped their bounds on this one.

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