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Does this Detroit muralist have legal rights to protect her piece?

Lester Graham

A Detroit artist is suing to protect her nine-story mural, which has become a landmark in the city's north end.

If you've driven by it, you probably remember Katherine Craig's massive, technicolor piece called The Illuminated Mural.

Created in 2009 with nearly 100 gallons of paint, it kind of looks like bleeding rainbow, covering a massive wall at 2937 East Grand Boulevard.

Craig says she had a contract with the building’s owners at the time, stating the mural was “intended to be long lasting for the Northend Community” and would “remain on the building for no less than a 10-year time period.”

But the building has changed hands a couple times since then, and it’s in a neighborhood that’s expected to be a big spot for new development in the city.

It was recently bought by Princeton Enterprises LLC, and Craig’s lawsuit alleges that the company has “threatened to destroy or mutilate the mural (by, for example, punching holes in the face to make windows).”

Craig’s lawsuit says doing so without her permission would violate the Visual Artist Rights Act, which she claims gives her lifetime rights to prevent any modifications to the piece.

“As an artist, it’s very important for me to maintain its integrity and protect my career,” says Craig. “I really do have to step up here and say 'it is not acceptable to remove my work.'”

“I’m a working artist,” she adds. “I work and live off of the income of the work I’m creating, and I get jobs from being known for this piece specifically. People know me because of this painting. This is about my career as an artist, and also about my wage as an artist.”

A call and voicemail message, as well as an email seeking comment from Princeton Enterprises LLC, were not immediately returned.   

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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