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Painted Into a Corner

By Kevin Robinson in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 16, 2007 1:50PM

Just days before he faces Naisy Dolar at the ballot box in Chicago's 50th Ward, Bernie Stone is facing a different kind of challenge in his ward: public art, and the tension it can create in the community. Muhammed Ali, a British Muslim artist who is touring the US in conjunction with the Arts Council England for his “Arts and Islam” tour, came to Chicago this past weekend. For the Chicago portion of the tour, he had planned to paint the word "Peace" in both Arabic and English on the side of the Islamic Circle of North America mosque on Granville and California. Come Friday, however, Ali and his supporters, including children from the community that had come to help paint the wall were confronted by none other than Bernie Stone himself, telling them that they needed a permit for the sign, and it had to go through his office first.

City Ordinance 8-4-270 seems to address this situation; we have to wonder, however, if the authors of the ordinance intended it to apply to works of public art on private property, particularly religious institutions. Unfortunately, what started out as a simple misunderstanding flared up into a much stickier situation.

While Stone has some valid points, perhaps the most disturbing part of this video is the quote from the fellow to Stone's left, who told the artists "those guys [CFD] are pissed over there, they're saying how many firemen died in that thing and they got to see this every morning [the mural].”

Muhammed Akbar, the artist, told Chicagoist, "We were out here for a beautiful purpose, to create art and to bring diversity and color to the community. This feeling of unity and happiness was crushed not just by us being stopped from painting but by the frankly racist comments ... towards us. How many signs are there out there that are over 12 square feet and without a permit? Before this mural there was some real big banners that we never got permits for on that wall." We here at Chicagoist won't try to interpret the law for Alderman Stone, but we're troubled and saddened that one of our own city councilmen, who represents a community of many different faiths and ethnicities, and has an obligation to represent Chicago to the rest of the world, can't take a stand when such blatant racism is shoved not only in his face, but the faces of the community and its guests.