Artist sues to protect large Detroit mural

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News

Detroit — A local artist is suing a building owner to protect her huge mural on an East Grand Boulevard building from potentially being destroyed or changed.

“The Illuminated Mural” by artist Katherine Craig is a colorful, 100-foot-by-125-foot mural that takes up an entire wall of a nine-story building at 2937 East Grand, which is just a few blocks east of Woodward. Craig’s technicolor creation has been widely praised by art critics as a significant work of public art in Detroit.

She’s not seeking money. The artist wants to make sure her work survives.

“I’m bringing this lawsuit to stand up for the rights of artists everywhere, and for the interests of Detroit’s creative entrepreneurs, like myself, who have invested in the arts, public art and art education,” said Craig, in a written statement Wednesday.

According to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Detroit, Craig created the mural in 2009 on the historic building, which was designed by legendary architect Albert Kahn. Craig moved into the once-empty building and spent more than one year and used more than 100 gallons of paint on the artwork.

But since then, the building has changed ownership at least twice as developers begin to eye the North End neighborhood as an area that will attract a growing number of residents. It’s near the booming Midtown area, and the future M-1 Rail has also sparked hopes the neighborhood will see an influx of new residents.

Last January, the building was bought by Bloomfield Hills-based Princeton Enterprises for $950,000.

Princeton Enterprises said it just learned of the lawsuit and is still “gathering information,” according to its attorney, Andrew Smith, but added the owners “disagree with the characterization of the facts” in the lawsuit.

“We are still gathering information,” Smith said. “We disagree, however, with Ms. Craig’s characterization of the facts and the law. We are committed to the revitalization of Detroit and to working within our legal rights to help that process move forward.”

Princeton is considered redeveloping the property into apartments, condominiums or office space, and has threatened to destroy or mutilate Craig’s work, according to the lawsuit.

The building was put up for auction last summer but it wasn’t sold. The company continues to weigh its options.

Craig alleges the building owners have considered “punching holes” in the murals in order to create windows in the building. The building owners have also offered her an unknown sum to give up the fight to not change the artwork, according to the lawsuit.

In 2012, Craig gained a federal copyright for the work. Her lawsuit also asserts that an act of Congress called that the Visual Artist Rights Act protects her mural from “intentional distortion,” according to the lawsuit.

Grant is seeking an injunction barring the building owners to change or destroy “The Illuminated Mural.” She also wants the owners to disclose to any interested buyers in the property that the mural is protected.

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