By Kirk Ross
A bizarre chain of events Tuesday erased a mural painted five years ago by scores of residents as a community-building event â€” an act that has many outraged and wondering why someone would do such a thing.
â€œItâ€™s really, really strange,â€ Francis Chan, owner of Jade Palace, said about the mid-day painting over of the community mural on the West side of his restaurant. â€œWhy would somebody do this? Itâ€™s insane.â€
Brian Plaster, owner of The Metal Shop, said Larry Hayes, former owner of Broad Street Coffee, had stopped by his shop and asked to borrow a ladder. Plaster said Hayes was acting a bit strange at the time, but he agreed to help take the ladder down to a crew of three men hired out from the menâ€™s homeless shelter on Rosemary Street.
Plaster said it wasnâ€™t until police contacted him that he realized what had happened.
The mural after its completion in 2002. Photo by Jackie Helvey
Gone are dozens of small blocks painted by artists and volunteers. In their place is a freshly painted wall of solid, chalky mint-green.
Sitting at the bus stop Tuesday afternoon with his hands spattered with paint, shelter resident Joe Patillo was still shaking his head. He and two other shelter residents had been recruited for the job. It wasnâ€™t until Chan drove up that Patillo realized no one had given permission for the wall to be painted.
â€œI felt awful that he didnâ€™t know about it,â€ Patillo said.
Patillo said the story began when a man stopped by and said he was looking for some day labor. The crew went out to Carrboro Plaza, Patillo said, and picked up supplies and then went to the parking lot between the police station and Jade Palace and began setting up.
They were just finishing the job, Patillo said, and the man who hired him had left to dump the trash and paint cans, when Chan arrived and started asking what was happening.
â€œHe said, â€˜Who authorized you to do this?â€™â€ Patillo said. A few minutes later the man who hired him returned, and Patillo said once he saw what was going on, he drove off.
â€œHe said he would pay us when he got back, but he just took off once he saw what was happening,â€ Patillo said.
Chan said he did not recognize the man, who was driving a Subaru with an Enterprise Rental Car license plate. Chan said he will ask Carrboro police to check with the rental agency and try to find the man who hired the painters.
Kim Matin, who organized the mural painting as a community-building event and a fundraiser for Club Nova, was stunned to hear about what happened Wednesday.
The muralâ€™s theme was â€œWhat does community mean to me?â€ More than 80 volunteers helped design and paint it and the event raised more than $5,000 for Club Nova.
â€œItâ€™s so bizarre that something like that would happen right in town,â€ she said. This is such a big loss. The wall was one of Carrboroâ€™s children.â€
Emily Weinstein, the artist who directed the work on the mural, called the painting over a â€œhideous act of vandalism.â€
â€œItâ€™s painful to me to see so many peopleâ€™s work destroyed in such a vicious manner,â€ she said. As well as being stunned by the act, Weinstein said she just couldnâ€™t fathom why someone would do such a mean-spirited thing. â€œItâ€™s fascinating that someone would go to such measures to hurt so many people.â€
If Hayes should prove to be the person who hired the men, one possible reason may lie in his battle with the town over the Broad Street sign painted on the brick at his former coffee shop, which the town said was in violation of its sign ordinance. After repeatedly fining Hayes for failing to correct the violation, the town threatened in August of 2005 to impound the building. Hayes painted over the sign.
Chan said he would likely press charges.
After it was completed in 2002, the community mural itself was deemed in violation of the townâ€™s sign rules since it had the names of businesses in it. The mural was altered in 2003, replacing the business names with words from a 32-word poem composed by then Carrboro poet laureate Patrick Heron.
Matin said she hopes the town rallies to do something positive.
â€œThere is, I guess, an opportunity,â€ she said. â€œClearly, there a wall waiting for something to happen.â€