Public Art and Private Property

The destruction of part of a building on Bishop’s Main Street has pushed the issue of protection of public art into the foreground.

The large south wall of the former Sierra Office Supply building became home to the first of the Bishop Mural Society’s projects more than a decade ago.

The building recently sold to the family of Karen Schwartz, owner of Sage to Summit, with plans to move her business to Main St. As the contractor went to work on building improvements, crews cut a large opening in the south wall which removed more than a quarter of the mural.

Members of the mural society, alarmed at the loss of public art, approached Ms. Schwartz to negotiate saving the rest of the painting.

Schwartz said that the wall was “ridden with termites and structurally unstable.” She said much of the building will undergo a major upgrade. Schwartz said she is aware of the importance of the mural and feels bad about its loss.

“I know the mural society put a lot of effort into this,” said Schwartz, “but the building is structurally unstable. It’s going to be a brand new building.”

Mural Society officials, concerned about the future of public art in Bishop and the possibility of other mural destruction in the future, say they hope to be in negotiations with the building owner to solve the issue.

Many mural artists go into their projects aware of the vulnerable nature of public art. John Pugh, painter of the famous DWP mural in Bishop, points to federal law that he says protects public art. The Visual Arts Rights Act, Pugh said, requires building owners to give artists notice of planned mural destruction and 90 days to allow for removal of the mural.

The Bishop Mural Society raised the funds and paid for the painting of 23 murals in Bishop, most with historical themes.

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