Beloved mural painted over in downtown Chapel Hill

mschultz@newsobserver.comMarch 21, 2013 

  • Who’s that girl?

    The girl with the flute became opera singer Cecelia Hall. She is the daughter of Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, and artist Jennifer Miller, a friend and frequent Michael Brown collaborator.

    She attended Orange High School and the N.C. School of the Arts, studied voice with Durham teacher Pei Fen Liu and got her master’s at The Juilliard School. “When she first sang for me, I thought there was some magic little thing about her,” Brian Dickie, former general director of Chicago Opera Theater, told Chicago Magazine last year.

    Hall returns home this fall to perform with the N.C. Opera Company in Mozart’s “Così fan tutte” (“The School for Lovers”) Oct. 3, 5 and 6 at Fletcher Opera Theater in Progress Energy Center in Raleigh.

— The artist is sick about it. The town is upset about it. And the restaurant owner isn’t talking about it.

One of Chapel Hill’s downtown murals by hometown artist Michael Brown was painted over in recent days. A larger-than-life scene of a girl playing the flute and a boy playing a violin is now an empty black, brick wall.

“I’m very hurt. I’m very disappointed,” Brown said Wednesday. “Given the quality of the work, and how many people loved it, I’m not sure it was the most thoughtful citizenship,” he said.

The untitled mural – the artist lets passers-by come up with names – had adorned the building at 421-423 W. Franklin St. since 2001, according to Mark McCurry, aide to Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt. It was one of the oldest of the more than two dozen downtown murals, most of them Brown’s.

Brown and others are especially irritated because a 2008 “Save the Murals” campaign raised $1,500 to restore the flute mural.

“This mural, it was a favorite,” said Preservation Chapel Hill director Cheri Szcodronski, who still had the invoice for the restoration Wednesday.

“I‘m pretty disappointed nobody called us,” she said. “We might have been able to come up with solutions.”

The Franklin Street building houses the acclaimed Lantern restaurant, whose owner and award-winning chef Andrea Reusing did not return calls Tuesday and Wednesday. The front door was locked Wednesday afternoon.

The restaurant is expanding into a former arts supply store space next door, where workers have recently painted large sidewalk windows in the same black trim. Efforts to reach contractor Scott McLean of McLean Building Co. on Tuesday and Wednesday were unsuccessful.

There is no town ordinance that prevents a private property owner from painting over a mural, and Brown said he paints them knowing they might not last.

But mayor’s aide McCurry and Jeffrey York, Chapel Hill’s public and cultural arts administrator, said they too are trying to understand what happened. The town has promoted the murals as Chapel Hill attractions. The Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau printed a postcard of the flute mural.

“I’m a little miffed,” York said. “I’m dismayed.”

“Generally, it would be inconceivable somebody would paint over a piece of public art without thinking about it,” McCurry said.

This isn’t the first downtown mural to be painted over, Brown said. Tropical birds on the old Patio Loco Mexican restaurant down the street are gone. An advertisement now mars a mural on East Rosemary Street.

“We’re losing them one by one,” he said.

Schultz: 919-932-2003

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