Updated: Apr 21
After backlash from some of the public and St. Mary of the Springs Catholic Church, the Historic District Commission repealed its unanimous Feb. 17 vote to approve a mural to be placed on the Kollective Coffee and Tea building, which faces the church's prayer garden, and plans to recast its vote in an April 21 meeting. Since the repeal, building owner and mural funder Bobby Graham has spoken with the church and will be making adjustments to the original design. Both Graham and a representative from the church have stated they are satisfied with the design moving forward.
Public input on the mural's design was requested by the Arts Advisory Committee from Feb. 9- March 11. The input was not required, nor was it to influence, the HDC's original vote, which was cast three weeks prior to the public input deadline. However, on March 11 the results showed 118 people approved the design, and 63 people disapproved it. An article on the gathering of public input can be found here.
The wall was primed by Graham in preparation for Quebec-native artist Danaé Brissonnet to get to work days prior to the commission's March 17 repeal. Graham said after meeting with the church, together they decided to remove two of the mural's original elements: A personified flower dipping its feet in the spring and a house holding a flame.
In Brissonnet's original mural concept, she said:
"Through this mural, I want to integrate the sacredness of the spring, as well as the sharing of peace and generosity it embodies. Hence, the little personified cherry blossom sits in peace on the thumb, resting with its feet in the spring, in full bloom, as a symbol of healing.
"... The house holds fire inside, symbolizing both the warmth of Hot Springs, but also remembering the great fire of Hot Springs that greatly marks its history."
Graham said he is satisfied with the adjustments made, with the "basic concept" remaining, and is eager for Brissonnet to get to work. Once she does, he expects it to take no longer than three weeks to complete.
The HDC's vote is based solely upon whether or not the mural design follows its guidelines, and the decision to repeal and take a month before casting a revote was to give the commissioners time to review those guidelines, Commission Chairman George Garrett Schwebel said.
"It hasn't been approved or denied, it's just going to give the commissioners time to kind of read our guidelines — the only thing we can go by," Schwebel said.
He later added, "There is no room for do we like it or dislike it, just whether it goes with our guidelines."
Since the mural's "content could not be judged upon" by the HDC, Graham said the March 17 repeal of the Feb. 17 vote was "wrong."
"We should be able to go ahead and be doing the mural," Graham said.
Schwebel said it was a unanimous decision amongst all commissioners to take a second look at the guidelines.
"My (hopeful) outcome is mainly that the commissioners would be able to interpret what they feel is correct based off the guidelines. And very, very separate from our decision, I would love to be able to see the business owner and the community members be able to at least have a discussion, because he (Graham) can absolutely — if he chooses to — have a different mural, if he would wish," Schwebel said.
"But my desire is that the commissioners would just have some time to visit the guidelines and make the right decision for the applicant."
The following is a portion of Section B in the HDC's Design Guidelines Handbook:
The Central Avenue Historic District comprises a portion of the Central Avenue corridor in downtown Hot Springs, Arkansas. The enabling ordinance describes the area as follows.
“The district begins at 205 Park Avenue, taking in the Majestic Hotel, and runs south along the west side of Central Avenue from 110 Central to 702 Central; the district runs from 111 Central to the Arlington Hotel on the east side of Central at the corner of Fountain and Central Streets.”
Because of its unique history and wealth of architectural styles, the district was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on June 25, 1985 by the United States Secretary of the Interior.
Following the district’s designation, the Hot Springs Board of Directors appointed the Hot Springs Historic District Commission on July 6, 1987. The Commission derives its authority from municipal ordinance 3908 and 3944 and subsequent amendments, which established the Central Avenue Historic District. The purposes for creation of the district, as stated in the enabling ordinance, were to:
- Effect and accomplish the protection, enhancement and perpetuation of this area which represents or reflects elements of the city’s cultural, social, economic, political and cultural history; - Safeguard the city’s historic, aesthetic and cultural heritage, as embodied and reflected in this area; - Stabilize and improve property values in the district; - Foster civic pride in the beauty and accomplishments of the past; - Protect and enhance the city’s attractions to tourists and visitors and the support and stimulus to business and industry thereby provided; City of Hot Springs Central Avenue Historic District Design Guidelines Handbook
- Strengthen the economy of the city; and - Promote the use of the historic district for the education, pleasure and welfare of the people of the city.
The Commission maintains the dual mission of preserving the historic integrity of the area while assuring that it remains a viable retail and tourist center. This Design Guidelines Handbook – hereinafter referred to as “The Handbook” – serves as the primary tool for the Commission in achieving its mission.
The full handbook can be found here.
On April 21, 2022, the HDC unanimously approved the mural design. Graham said he hopes to see the artist begin within the next two weeks.