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Feud over Normal town mural heats up in federal court

The Town of Normal is asking a federal judge to deny a motion to temporarily block the demolition of buildings in Uptown Normal amid a legal battle with artists over the town mural.

Last month, a group of 13 artists filed a lawsuit seeking to halt the pending destruction of a mural at the town-owned 104 E. Beaufort, formerly known as The Pod. The building is one of several slated for demolition to make way for the $30 million Trail East mixed-use development.

The mural was painted in 2011, soon after The Pod leased the building. The town said the building was leased with the understanding it would be demolished at a later date. The lease was not renewed when it expired in 2017.

The plaintiffs said the destruction of the mural would violate their rights under federal copyright law, and are seeking a temporary restraining order protecting the buildings from demolition or modification, as well as monetary damages and attorneys’ fees.

The Town of Normal is proposing the relocation of the mural at a cost of just less than $100,000. The town said moving the mural wouldn’t violate the artists’ rights as copyright holders, because relocating the mural wouldn’t intentionally modify or destroy the mural.

Farnsworth Group sketch of the mural’s proposed move

“The potential loss of this project would result in a substantial hardship to the Town, whereas the moving of the mural, and action that seeks to preserve the mural itself, imposes no harm on the Plaintiffs,” wrote town attorney Caitlyn Culbertson.

Culbertson argued that the artists’ arguments are “meritless” given that the town is moving the mural, not destroying it.

Architects at Farnsworth Group found that while there is some minor damage to the brick and mortar wall over which the mural is painted, reinforcement of the wall with a steel frame prior to its move to a new site within 3 miles of its current location should preserve the mural. The building was constructed in 1900.

U.S. District Court Judge Billy Joe McDade ordered both parties to file supplemental briefs supporting their arguments, and set a new motion hearing for May 20.

Tim Shelley

Social Media & Digital Content Manager

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