As the Murals Churn

Unpublished; written June 30, 1998
Dear Editor:

In our latest installment of "As the Murals Churn", Peter Teekamp, our protagonist, wrote a letter in the June 22 Free Lance, allegedly to thank his many supporters. But in the course of 18 paragraphs, it appears only four were used to thank those supporters; most were actually written to (surprise!) complain about the injustice of the mural ban. He even got in a couple sentences advertising his services.

Before I continue, let me state that I find Mr. Teekamp's murals fairly pleasing. I pass his work at Whiskey Creek and New Life almost every day on my way to work, and the murals don't bother me. I don't know if I'd call them "fine art", as Mr. Teekamp does, but in a world where "modern art" can be an all-white canvas, I won't argue the point too much.

What I really object to is Mr. Teekamp's constant whining and exaggeration. I can understand why he's upset, but wonder if he can see the other side of the issue. To spell it out, if anyone can put up large displays in public on a permanent basis, where do we draw the line?

If skinheads came into town, could they paint swastikas on their headquarters? Could a KKK chapter decorate their buildings with burning crosses? (No, I'm not equating Mr. Teekamp's work with those cretins, just making a point.)

I don't view this as a free speech issue, as the murals in question depict a few bikers and some landscaping artifacts, but don't seem to be making any statement. In fact, I could at least perceive the swastika or burning cross as a free speech issue, since both symbols have been associated with political movements, no matter how vile those movements are. I don't think Mr. Teekamp's murals have political connotations -- although they may by the time this issue is done with..

Mr. Teekamp also claims he was doing this "to celebrate the Fourth of July", but I didn't see any patriotic images in his murals. The closest anything comes to the Fourth of July is pictures of bikers, who will happen to have a rally here on that weekend. But if the rally were on some other weekend, I suspect the businesses with the biker murals would still have commissioned them. So let's not mislead the public with false patriotic claims.

Mr. Teekamp also seems to excel in exaggeration, with comments like "Can you imagine a town without art" and his comment equating the mural ban to a boss laying off an employee without pay "to research [his] value".

My understanding is that the ban applies only to murals on the outside walls of buildings. I'm sure if Mr. Teekamp painted the same mural on the inside walls of a building, nobody would object at all. And I don't believe that banning murals means that all art is banned. That's just blatant exaggeration.

Mr. Teekamp also claims that the Internet is full of stories about murals being good for the community (while not providing any references). A search using the HotBot engine on "city murals" returned some 10,998 hits, so it appears there are plenty of stories out there (from places like Steubenville, Ohio and Twentynine Palms, for example).

What I don't see mentioned by Mr. Teekamp is any reference about how these murals came into being. Were they commissioned by the local government, by a local arts council, by locals businesses, or by individuals? Did they need to get any kind of approval from the local government? I wonder if Mr. Teekamp knows the answers? I don't have time to research all those links, but perhaps he does since, as he admits in his closing, his schedule is a bit open lately. I would be interested in knowing what process all those murals went through. I would be surprised if none of the other towns had any say in what murals depicted and where they were located.

The last point to consider is whether Mr. Teekamp needs a contractor's license to paint his murals. I looked up what types of work required a contractor's license on the State of California's Web site. From that site (at, I found the following:

In general, all persons or businesses constructing or altering, moving, wrecking or demolishing any building, highway, road, parking facility, railroad, excavation or other structure, project, development or improvement must be licensed as a contractor if the total cost of labor and materials for a project is $300 or more. A license is also needed to do any of this work as a subcontractor or specialty contractor.

I don't know what Mr. Teekamp charges, but it seems painting a mural on a building could be considered altering a structure, so if he charges over $300, it appears that he should have a license (unless he meets one of the exceptions listed on the page cited). Given that many paints are considered toxic substances, I can understand why professionals engaged in painting might be required to be licensed.

To be sure, I sent E-mail to the Contractors License Board asking if a contractor's license was required, and was told that it was if the mural's labor and materials cost more than $300.

Mr. Teekamp said that he won't be "bullied" into getting a contractor's license. He also claimed that he "followed all existing rules in order to do the jobs". Since a license seems to be legally required for his work, I wouldn't say he followed "all existing rules" (unless he charged less than $300).

Mr. Teekamp also claims that getting this contractors license would require him "to know how to operate heavy machinery." I don't know if this is true, but it seems like more exaggeration. California offers Class C specialty contractor's licenses, including one called "C33 - Painting and Decorating" (listed on I would be extremely surprised if a C33 license required any knowledge of heavy machinery.

Again, I don't personally object to Mr. Teekamp's murals, but I understand why some people might. What I object to are his whining, exaggerations, and appeal to emotion instead of facts. But as I like to provide solutions in my letters, I noticed that Twentynine Palms is looking for mural artists. I hear the desert air is good for you.

UPDATE: The URLs above don't work now, so the pages must have moved.

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