Want to paint or install a mural on the side of a historic Milwaukee property? There may be some new guidelines for that—including a few that ask you to please keep your mural tucked away in a back alley or something.

Members of the Historic Preservation Commission met Wednesday afternoon to discuss a draft of “Mural Guidelines for Historic Properties in the City of Milwaukee.” The guidelines require, among other things, “written approval from the property owner for the mural, provided the applicant is not the owner of the property” and a “maintenance plan specifying care and the parties responsible for the maintenance of the mural.”

But the “Design Standards” section of the draft gets more specific. “No mural may be located on elevations that directly face or are parallel to sidewalks and public rights-of-way,” reads one guideline. “No mural shall exceed 50% of the wall on which it is placed or twice the maximum size allowed by the Milwaukee Code of Ordinances for wall signage in the area, whichever is smaller,” reads another. Meanwhile, “no mural shall be permitted on an unpainted masonry wall such as brick, stone, or stucco. Murals should instead be painted on removable materials such as plywood or other suitable outdoor material.”

The guidelines are a long-in-the-works response to the proliferation of murals—and the funding for murals—in Milwaukee. In July 2019, a Mauricio Ramirez mural painted on the side of a building at 1202 W. Historic Mitchell St. caused some controversy, and sparked the need for a set of mural guidelines for historic properties.

The guidelines—or lack thereof—came up again in August 2020, when the Commission considered a Shepard Fairey mural planned for the south side of the historic Railway Exchange Building in downtown Milwaukee (pictured above). Even though the guidelines were not yet drafted, the Commission denied a Certificate of Appropriateness for the mural based on technical and historical considerations. A group of artists and activists opposed the mural for other reasons.

The Commission approved the guidelines on Wednesday, noting that while they won’t become a part of city code, they would be attached to all designated historic properties in the city. The full Common Council will make a final approval.

Here’s the draft:


Mural Guidelines for Historic Properties in the City of Milwaukee

INTRODUCTION

The Milwaukee Historic Preservation Commission directed staff to draft guidelines for the installation of murals on locally designated historic properties in the City of Milwaukee. Mural requests in Milwaukee have been made by individuals and groups as the popularity of outdoor murals, and the availability of funding mechanisms has increased in recent years. The Historic Preservation Commission felt that such requests for murals on locally-designated properties required discussion and a set of guidelines by which to make informed decisions about granting Certificates of Appropriateness. The draft guidelines prepared below are the result of combing through mural guidelines for historic properties in numerous communities throughout the country.

For the purposes of these guidelines, a “mural” shall be defined as an artistic work applied to an exterior surface of a pre-existing structure and that does not constitute a sign under s. 200-08-84 of the Milwaukee Code of Ordinances.

I. APPLICATION REQUIREMENTS

In addition to those materials usually required for Certificates of Appropriateness (CoA), applicants seeking a CoA for a mural on an historic property shall submit:

a. Written approval from the property owner for the mural, provided the applicant is not the owner of the property.

b. A record of ownership of the mural.

c. A maintenance plan specifying care and the parties responsible for the maintenance of the mural. Maintenance includes, but is not limited to, graffiti removal, removal of surface dirt, reapplication of coatings, touching up damaged areas, and ensuring vegetation does not harm the mural or the supporting building.

d. An agreement between the artist and the property owner identifying who is responsible for removal of a mural.

e. Photo documentation of the completed mural shall be supplied to the Historic Preservation Commission to provide a base line for future maintenance, conservation and restoration.

II. DESIGN STANDARDS

a. Except as provided below, no mural may be located on elevations that directly face or are parallel to sidewalks and public rights-of-way.

b. Murals shall be permitted for side or rear walls or alley walls (but not the primary facades) that have been refaced with non-historic materials such as replacing wood with parging.

c. Murals shall be permitted for side walls that lack historic details (cornices, windows, entrances, etc.), are of painted common brick, includes no decorative masonry work, and that are not street-facing or adjacent to a sidewalk.

d. No mural shall exceed 50% of the wall on which it is placed or twice the maximum size allowed by the Milwaukee Code of Ordinances for wall signage in the area, whichever is smaller.

e. Murals shall be confined to one wall of a building and not wrap around to other sides, nor may any building have more than one mural.

f. No mural shall be permitted on an unpainted masonry wall such as brick, stone, or stucco. Murals should instead be painted on removable materials such as plywood or other suitable outdoor material. Anchoring shall be placed into masonry joints or other non-damaging areas of the walls. Framing shall be done so as not to trap water between the mural and the wall. Hanging or anchoring shall be reversible.

g. No mural shall be permitted on wood sidings with surface detail such as, but not limited to bevel siding, board and batten siding.

h. No mural shall be permitted on a building that has had masonry cleaning or major repointing, nor may a mural be used in lieu of cleaning or repointing on a building in need of it.

i. No mural shall be permitted on a fence.

j. Except as provided below, murals shall not cover over windows, doors, cornices, or other architectural elements.

i. Murals may be permitted on windows and doors temporarily boarded due to vandalism. They shall be permitted for no more than 90 days or the time permitted for repairs by the Department of Neighborhood Services, whichever is greater.

ii. No mural shall be permitted on preventative boarding.

k. Lighting of a mural shall require a CoA. l. Artists shall sign and date their work in a discreet location.

III. REMOVAL

a. A CoA shall be required for removal of a mural.

b. Upon removal, any materials used to adhere the mural shall be removed at the time the mural is removed. This includes, but is not limited to brackets, mounting hardware, caulk or grout, and adhesive glues. The surface shall be returned to its original condition.

About The Author

Co-Founder and Editor

Matt Wild weighs between 140 and 145 pounds. He lives on Milwaukee's east side.

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