Discussion about a mural slated to be painted at a Hillsboro Road business turned contentious during Tuesday’s Franklin Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting.
The mural, to be rendered by local artist Michael Cooper, would read “Welcome to Franklin” in a postcard format. It would be outside the Urgent Team location in the Independence Square shopping center.
Cooper described the art as “a welcoming postcard featuring highlights of historic Franklin within each letter of the word ‘Franklin.’”
According to his website, Cooper has over 30 years of experience designing murals. He has designed two pieces for Williamson Medical Center and one in the Franklin Family YMCA indoor pool area.
As proposed, each of the letters would be designed to represent various aspects of the city. “F” would feature Franklin Farmers Market, “R” the Lotz Museum, “A” would be Carnton Plantation, “N” would be Franklin Theatre, “K” would be Harlinsdale Farm, “L” would be The Factory, “I” would be hot-air balloon adventures and “N” would be the Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge.
“I say this only somewhat facetiously, but is the property owner prepared for the photo ops?” Ward 2 Alderman Dana McLendon asked.
“Yes, yes we are, we will welcome them, definitely,” said Urgent Team owner Amy Thomas.
Although aldermen agreed with the overall mural concept and location, several disagreed with individual elements.
Ward 1 Alderman Bev Burger said that she likes the project but offered suggestions.
“The No. 1 visited place in all of Franklin is our square,” she said. “And it’s missing. Not that I disagree with the farmers market, but on the ‘F,’ I would love to see our square. I would think that would be our No. 1.”
Burger also said that she would like to see a piece to tie together historic elements with the modern ones.
“Franklin is not just downtown Franklin, not just historic Franklin, it is also corporate Franklin, it is also modern-day Franklin, and I see that missing,” she said.
“I agree about the square,” Ward 4 Alderman Margaret Martin said. “The absence of it jumped out at me first thing.
“With all the mess that’s going on now and all of the comments, it might be just the thing to not have another opportunity for people to gripe about the monument.”
McClendon, an attorney by trade, cautioned the board against revising a public art proposition.
“We’re not picking wallpaper for our office,” he said. “This is public art. And we should just take these things as a yes/no vote and not go meddling with the content. That’s problematic for a lot of reasons.”
“We’re all new at figuring out this public art game,” said Alderman Brandy Blanton, a member of the public art commission.
“I’m befuddled here because this is not meddling at all,” Burger responded. “This art commission is under the authority of BOMA. We have established it. They report to us, we approve it.
“Because we have controversy right now in our nation, and everybody wants to tear down every ridiculous thing that they can tear down, is no reason to shy away from putting our square up there. That is Franklin, the good, the bad, the ugly, whatever.”
Alderman Pearl Bransford, the board’s only Black representative, said the board may want to consider adding additional history to the mural if town square were to be added.
“If, indeed, the will of this board is to turn one of these letters into something on the square, let’s put the slave market story there,” she said. “That is the first thing that was on the square, and you can’t get more historic than that.”
As tensions rose, McLendon sought City Attorney Shauna Billingsley’s input on how much of a conversation the board should be having based on content.
“(From a legal standpoint), if we want to commission the mural, we can certainly do that, but it’s really an up or down vote based on what you’ve been presented by the artist,” Billingsley said.
Earlier in the conversation, Assistant City Administrator Vernon Gerth noted he was pleased the recently created public arts commission is bringing forward such projects.
“The lack of public art in our community is noticeable, and it’s great to see pieces now starting to be created and proposed and discussed,” he said. “Art is to create conversation and to allow people to look at different pieces differently.”