How to Get a Legal Wall for a Mural
Here's how to get off your couch and make your art known.
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It's a boring Saturday. All of a sudden you remember that Donald Trump is the president, and it hits hard—all you want is to paint the town red. Here to help is Jasper Wong, a street artist and founder of POW! WOW! Worldwide, who has experience applying paint of all colors to walls from Hawaii to Massachussets to Japan.
Your idea for a sprawling mural that will really hit the Donald, or whomever you dedicate your artwork to, where it hurts—social media—is going to take time, work, and know-how. It's going to take money, creativity, and a lot of smooth talking. How do you find a good wall to paint? Should you get permission first, or cross your fingers and hope to not get caught? In the midst of preparing 48 muralists for the seventh annual POW! WOW! Hawaii by February 11, Wong dropped some wisdom about how you can reclaim your town's walls, one spray can or paint bucket at a time.
The Creators Project: What do you look for in a mural wall?
Jasper Wong: A ton of factors come into play, such as visibility, access, wall surface, obstructions, and the neighborhood it resides in. The main variables tend to be visibility and wall surface. Ideally, you would want a wall that can be seen by a lot of people and easy to paint. Corrugated metal or walls with a ton of obstructions, such as exterior pipes and wires are not the best to paint on. However, that is all subjective. Some artist love painting on those types of walls, because it lends itself to site-specific work and the ability to play with the existing structure of the building.
What are the advantages of a legal mural over an illegal artwork for getting your ideas out there?
Both are valid means of getting your ideas out there. With legal murals you just have more time to work on it. You're not rushed or concerned about being caught. You can spend a week or months working on your masterpiece.
Once you've found a wall, how do you get permission?
Our proven method is to just walk through the front door and ask to speak to the owner. If you're lucky, the path to the owner can be quite straightforward. Other times it takes a bit of hunting. Checking tax records, searching websites and other public databases can help as well. There is no harm in cold calling or emailing and seeing what happens from there. If it's owned by the city then it can be tougher and there might be a lot more hoops to jump through. Finding the owner of the wall can just be one out of many steps though. If the wall access is via another lot, then you need to find the owner of that as well. Sometimes you need permission from multiple entities, such as the wall owner, business owner, land owner, neighboring lot owner for access, and even the person that rents the parking stalls that front the wall. Securing walls is definitely not easy and it takes time. But, adding art to neighborhood can be a deeply rewarding experience.
How do you convince the owner to let you paint their wall?
Some owners are very open and supportive of the arts. They welcome you with open arms. Others need a bit of convincing and have their own misconceptions about public art. They see it as a blight on the neighborhood and a means to attract crime to their building. It does the complete opposite of that, but it takes time to educate them and change their views. I sometimes offer to paint over the mural if they don't like it. At the end of the day, they will either have a beautiful mural or a freshly painted wall. It's a win-win situation for them. 100% of the time they love the mural and keep it for years.
What about getting a permit?
It really depends on the city. Some cities require a permit and others don't. Agreements are done both verbally and via a written contract. That also completely depends on the owner. Other times, they require artist waivers to protect themselves if the artwork needs to be altered due to changes to the building structurally.
We normally reach out to the appropriate permitting departments to get the proper paperwork. Some cities require approval by individual neighborhood boards and recommendation letters from supporting politicians.
Once you have the wall, what materials and tools do you need? How much paint, etc.?
This really depends on how big the wall is and what is being painted. It could be hundreds of Montana Cans and gallons of house paint or just a handful.
How much money should artists expect to lay down for their mural?
That's really hard to say, because the scope and sizes vary so greatly. It could be as little as nothing, when paint is sponsored or building owners hire artists for mural commissions. Or it could be tens of thousands of dollars.
What other resources can our readers check out to learn more about making murals?
The best resource is connecting with artists that do it. I've learned so much from all of my peers, friends and family.
What's your advice for young muralists just starting out?
Just go out there and start painting.