For now at least, a proposed mural that says “All Lives Matter” will not be painted on Kirkwood Avenue just west of Indiana Avenue in downtown Bloomington.
Bloomington’s three-member board of public works has unanimously denied a special events application from Turning Point USA at Indiana University, to paint such a mural on the weekend of April 7 and 8.
The denial came at the board’s regular Tuesday meeting, after about 20 minutes worth of public comment, all of it opposed to the approval of the application to paint the mural.
The public commentary in opposition was based mostly on the fact that the “All Lives Matter” slogan is associated with opposition to the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
When it came time for a vote, the board didn’t deliberate on the question.
But when the item was put in front of the board, the basis for the denial was laid out by city attorney Mike Rouker: The proposed mural is for permanent or semi-permanent art (intended to last more than seven days), and it includes “speech.”
The inclusion of “words, letters, numbers, or universally recognized symbols, or logos of any kind” for a permanent art installation put the proposed ALM mural in conflict with the city’s new policy on art installations by private entities in the public right of way.
Bloomington’s policy was adopted by the board of public works at its Dec. 20, 2022 meeting.
The board’s action to adopt a new policy was taken because Bloomington was under a federal court order to develop and promulgate rules for private entities to install art in the public right-of-way.
That order came in connection with a lawsuit that the mural applicants filed. Turning Point and Indiana University student Kyle Reynolds filed the lawsuit after being denied permission to paint their “All Lives Matter” mural in 2021.
The court found that the city’s refusal in 2021 to allow Reynolds to paint his mural likely amounted to viewpoint discrimination, and issued a preliminary injunction.
Reynolds spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, using the Zoom interface, and pointed to the inclusion of words in the mural as the one issue that Turning Point had been unable to resolve through back-and-forth with the city about the application.
Reynolds said, “The only demand that we cannot comply with is to remove the speech elements from our application.” Reynolds continued, “We feel that removing the speech elements would defeat the purpose of the mural.” He added, “This is a mural we’ve been working with the city to paint for nearly two years now.”
Reynolds told the board that the new policy had been adopted only after the mural had been originally proposed in 2021, and after the federal judge granted the a preliminary injunction. Others had been granted the right to produce art with speech in the past, Reynolds said. He added, “We see no reason why our right to do so should be denied.”
Alluding to the still pending litigation, Reynolds said, “And if, unfortunately, this board votes down our application, we won’t have a choice, but to again bring this issue before federal court.”
As a part of the initial ruling in the lawsuit, the judge said that the three “Black Lives Matter” murals that had been installed in Bloomington were “government speech.”
That means the BLM murals were not a part of the public forum that the court thinks has been established by other art installations—through the city’s neighborhood grant improvement program and special events program.
Now that the mural application has been denied by the board, the denial will factor into the next proceedings of the federal lawsuit.
Speaking against the mural at Tuesday’s meeting were at least two business owners in the Kirkwood area—Bob Costello (Village Deli ) and Suzanne Aquila (Bloomington Bagel Company).
Costello told the board that he was speaking on behalf of the Kirkwood Community Association. Costello said, “We’re asking that you vote this request down. We’re also asking that in the future you vote all requests down that want to put murals on public roadways, especially Kirkwood.”
Costello added, “I think the petitioner can find plenty of private buildings that would be more than willing to let them put this as a mural on the side of a building, if that’s what they so wish.”
Aquila told the board, “It is neither appropriate, nor desired, to have any kind of mural like this in our downtown.” Aquila also pointed out that the proposed mural is located next to People’s Park, with its history as the former location of the Black Market. The market was firebombed in 1968 by a man with ties to the Ku Klux Klan. Aquila called the mural an “insult to that park.”
Aquila added, “As the parent of a child of color, I don’t want anyone coming from campus or coming to our downtown to see something that is veiled racism.”
About the proposed words in Turning Point’s mural, Bloomington resident Ruth Aydt said, “The words ‘all lives matter’ have been used to shut down important conversations about our country’s history of harm to Black people.”
Aydt continued, “In our own city, Black people were restricted from owning or leasing many prime properties as recently as 75 years ago. Black people were barred from IU housing until 1947. And elementary education remained segregated until 1951.” Aydt said, “Let’s talk about this part of our history.”
Maqube Reese told the board, “We do not yet live in a city, state or country where all lives actually matter. And that is the real problem we should be discussing tonight.”
Reese addressed the organization that wants to paint the mural: “If you truly believe that all lives matter, I invite you, the applicants and your organization, Turning Point USA, and its members, to resist and defeat pending discriminatory legislation in Indiana.”
Reese gave some examples of bills pending in front of the General Assembly that Turning Point should oppose, if the group believes that all lives matter—including HB 1608, which would regulate when and how human sexuality instruction is provided in public schools.
Reese added, “You can’t say ‘all lives matter’ and then pick and choose whose lives actually matter.”