New mural ordinance aims to promote public art, remove obstacles for local artists

Oct. 13, 2020

It didn’t take Jana Anderson long after moving back to her hometown to literally start making a mark on it.

The artist and Washington High School graduate returned during the pandemic and began working at Piper Arts when she saw an immediate need.

“As an artist, I see blank canvases everywhere,” she said. “And I see so many opportunities to bring life and colors to architecture and bring together communities in the process.”

This blank canvas took the form of the back side of Piper’s building at 1825 S. Minnesota Ave. where she promptly proposed painting a mural.

“The owner was really excited about it and had been wanting to do something like this for a while — just the right piece and artists hadn’t come up yet,” she said. “So it worked out really well.”

Her piece, an expanded version of something she did for her master’s thesis, is “an abstract design of a celestial starburst and structured circles and squares with the intent to create a cosmic macro-micro type of imagery.”

For Anderson, who also lived in Philadelphia — a city known for its murals — it also represents a chance to show Sioux Falls an approach to public art she hopes will grow.

“You’re turning eyesores into beautiful works of art,” she said. “All these empty walls are craving it.”

Her timing might be right, with Sioux Falls leaders showing an increased interest in encouraging this sort of work. The city and its Visual Arts Commission are rewriting the city’s mural ordinance with the intent of removing obstacles that can make it difficult for new works of public art to be commissioned. 

The current guidelines for murals are contained in the city’s signage ordinance, which groups them with other forms of advertising and prohibits them without a permit.

That wording dissuades local business from commissioning murals on their property, said Visual Arts Commission member and artist Zach DeBoer, who points to instances at some retailers where murals weren’t allowed because they depicted services the businesses provided and were considered advertising.

“I used to think, well, we can’t have art as advertising, you know, you can’t take up the entire building (with a mural,) but now I’m like, why not?” he said. “I mean, it looks great — better that than something else. And so that’s what we’re looking at right now.”

The city has seen an increase in murals without any connection to a business in recent years.

Artist Shaine Schroeder painted “Confetti” on the north side of Common Sense at 12th Street and Second Avenue in 2017.

Two years later, and with the support of the city, five murals were installed on a parking ramp wall at 101 E. Sixth St. They were painted by DeBoer, Evan Richards, Robbie Jelsma, Chuck Bennis and Cat Evans.

The goal of the new ordinance is to both encourage murals while not allowing them to become commercial advertising signs, according to those involved. DeBoer said the commission also wants to simplify the application process for a mural.

“You’re stunting artists … because then no one wants to fill out an application for a permit,” he said. “You’re adding additional steps. So I want to clear that up, and I want to get rid of any kind of mention of a permit or of an application to do that. I don’t think that the city has the time nor the need to police those things.”

The new mural ordinance has been drafted and is in the late stages of being finalized.

At the two most recent Visual Arts Commission meetings in mid-September, the commission members debated how they wanted a mural registration process to look going forward, differentiating between residential and commercial areas. They also discussed how individual neighborhoods would be involved in the registration process and ongoing maintenance. 

A final draft of the mural ordinance will be brought to the whole commission in October, and the city will seek input from local artists, said Shawna Goldammer, a planning projects coordinator for the city. From there, the ordinance will be sent to the city’s legal team for recommendations. After the commission reviews it one more time, an informational meeting with the City Council will be held and then the formal adoption process begins, which Goldammer said can take about three months. 

“It’ll be awhile before this is on the books, but we are definitely very close to at least launching it out into the world,” she said. “We hope that it grows into something that’s gonna really be great for Sioux Falls.”

The effects of public art on local communities can be seen in Canton, where Amber Van Dam knew she needed something to spice up the monotone, blank south wall of the building that houses her two businesses, the bakery Amber Whisk and the fitness center Pound by Amber.

To fill this empty space, she commissioned her former art teacher, Dave Fuller, to create a mural on that wall promoting diversity and beauty in her town. 

“It’s a small town, there really isn’t a lot of color or vibrancy, and there’s zero art in town,” Van Dam said. 

The piece, a colorful, vibrant work conveying a message of diversity, has already brought a new energy to the community, she said.

“There are quite a few people that have come up and just said that they love that I’m bringing something to Canton that does require some funding and work on my part,” she said.

“A lot of the buildings in Canton are older, or they’re harder to keep up, so it’s harder for people to go above and beyond just maintaining your building or home. And I have had other people reach out and say that, you know, the mural has just really spoken to them during this time and thanked me for putting that message out there.”

Murals can help create a sense of place within a community, DeBoer added — something he hopes to bring more of to Sioux Falls through the new ordinance. 

“Obviously everyone recognizes that murals add beauty and excitement to cities,” he said, “but they’re what make cities unique. Murals help create a sense of place, a true place, that if we drop you in downtown Sioux Falls, you’d be able to figure that out. You’d be able to see that … and remember which city was Sioux Falls. Ultimately, it creates a stronger sense of place, and it creates a place that people love and embrace.”

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New mural ordinance aims to promote public art, remove obstacles for local artists

An effort to encourage more murals citywide seems to be taking off, with new regulations coming to support it.

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