A group of artists painting a memorial mural near Dudley Square for Marathon bombing victims were forced to stop by police in a dispute over permits, and one of the organizers is criticizing the city for what he called a lack of cooperation.
More than 80 artists were originally scheduled to paint the exteriors of buildings at a long-vacant former MBTA lot in Roxbury on May 11, as part of an event called Mural Fest, according to Jason Turgeon, an organizer. The site is privately owned by Nuestra Comunidad Development Corporation.
Turgeon and other organizers had been debating who should paint a large, prominent wall facing Washington Street, he said. But when two bombs exploded near the Boston Marathon finish line on April 15, killing three people including a child, the group decided a memorial mural would be a nice gesture.
Eight artists from a Cambridge group called Team Rekloos began painting on Monday, while the events of the previous week were still fresh in their minds, Turgeon said. They took Tuesday off from their work — which they are doing for free — because of rain, and returned on Wednesday to begin sketching Marathon runners of different ethnicities helping one another. But police soon arrived and stopped the artists, saying they lacked proper permits.
“We moved the schedule up a couple weeks in response to the bombings, but this was not a new project,” he said.
City representatives have not rejected the group’s proposal, but Turgeon said he has been shuffled around between departments. Turgeon said he suspects the city views a spray-painted mural as a blight.
“Boston still looks at graffiti as a crime, but these guys are real artists, they’re very talented,” he said. “They’re not just high school kids with cans of spray paint.”
Dot Joyce, a spokeswoman for Mayor Thomas M. Menino, said the mayor’s office will try to resolve the issue, but believes the Marathon memorial is a ploy for sympathy for the group’s project.
“I think it’s unfortunate that some people are trying to take advantage of the situation to get what they want,” Joyce said. “My understanding is that there was some disagreement in the neighborhood about the mural.”
Turgeon, however, said one of the muralists lives across the street from the Roxbury site, and some neighbors are in favor of the mural.
“Not everyone is always on board with everything, but in general we’ve had pretty decent support in the neighborhood,” he said.
Menino has tried to attract development to Dudley Square in recent years. The $17.5 million, 34,500-square-foot Boston Police Department B-2 district headquarters opened in 2011. The former Ferdinand’s furniture store building is undergoing a $115 million renovation to become the new boston public schools headquarters.
Turgeon said he has charged about $8,000 in borrowed equipment and supplies to his credit card, and will not get grant money to cover the costs if the project falls through.
He promised the businesses that lent him equipment that he would have it back by Monday or Tuesday, which now seems unlikely.
“Hopefully, they’ll be understanding about it. It’s very awkward. I thought I knew what permits I needed, and everything was copacetic with the city,” he said.
Jeremy Alliger, an executive producer whose company, Alliger Arts, is acting as a fiscal agent for the project, said getting permits in Boston is much more difficult than in other cities. The process discourages artists from improving their communities, he said.
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