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Our Opinion: This mural inspires award-winning art. Will Wilson censor it?

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A three-judge panel has weighed in on the artistic merit of Brewmasters’ mural, and the decision conflicts with Wilson city officials’ claim that the art installation is merely an oversized sign.

No, the dispute between the popular pub and the city of Wilson hasn’t reached a courtroom. The judges we’re referring to are members of the Wilson Active Artists Association.

Their verdict, rendered not in a court of law, but in the Greenfield School’s judged competition art show, cannot be appealed.

Callie Boyette, a Greenfield senior, won first place in the art show’s cellphone photography competition for her picture of local artist Dave Matthews’ colorful mural on Brewmasters’ north-facing wall.

Judging the contest were Jane Gardner, a Jones Elementary art teacher for 13 years who writes and illustrates children’s books; Aida Abernathy, an oil and acrylic painter who has worked in advertising and graphic design; and Parmalier Arrington, a Williams College art graduate who earned a $22,000 fellowship to study in Japan.

It’s the photograph, not the mural, that received the award. But clearly, the selection of this striking subject had something to do with the first-place prize.

Boyette’s smartphone snapshot was taken at a diagonal angle so that the entire mural is included in the frame. Apart from the blue sky above it and the icy glaze on the parking lot beneath it, the mural in all its vivid color dominates the photo.

The winner plans to donate her framed photo to Brewmasters after the Wilson Arts Center exhibition closes on June 24. Bad news delivered Tuesday could mean Boyette’s picture may soon be all that remains of Matthews’ original art.

Chief Planning and Development Officer Rodger Lentz has rejected Brewmasters owner Morkos Youssef’s appeal of a Jan. 12 violation notice. Lentz says the mural violates city ordinances regulating business sign size.

At issue is whether Matthews’ choice to use negative space in the mural to spell “Brewmasters” transformed a work of art into an advertisement.

Wilson’s chief code enforcer hangs his heavy-handed decision on a faulty premise — he wrote that “the wall sign was created to advertise the business.” That is demonstrably false and should render Lentz’s ruling null and void.

Youssef did not plan, propose or pay for a wall sign to advertise his business, as Lentz could have easily found out. An ad would include Brewmasters’ logo, branding and some enticement to visit the pub.

Youssef commissioned a mural and left the particulars to the painter he selected. Matthews decided on his own to form letters between hundreds of illustrations.

Lentz’s order gives Brewmasters 30 days to either remove the lettering from its mural or appeal the decision to the city’s Board of Adjustment. We hope the business chooses to press its case.

Wilson officials are not merely following the rules. They’re asserting that they have unbridled discretion to categorize an artist’s work as advertising, muddy the waters with semantics and exercise strong-arm censorship.

Matthews shouldn’t need a sign permit to use artistic license.

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