Artful Mayhem Studio owner Sarah Zamora will get to put her colorful mural on the side of her business despite some social media backlash about the content.
The Keller City Council on Dec. 18 voted 5-2 on a resolution approving the mural, which will include positive messages meant to inspire the thousands of children who visit the studio each year.
Zamora fought back tears as she defended the project, saying it’s a matter of free speech.
“The central theme of the mural is love, peace and respect. It’s filled with color, beauty and whimsy and a few of my favorite things,” Zamora said.
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“It’s using these visual images and tying in quotes from respected leaders around the world, historians, presidents, celebrities, etc.”
Zamora founded Artful Mayhem Studio, 128 Keller Parkway, in Old Town Keller in 2012. The inside of the 75-year-old, former four-bedroom home is covered wall-to-wall with whimsical, colorful art from children’s birthday parties and classes.
Zamora wants the mural to bring that same youthful enthusiasm to the outside.
The Public Arts Board approved the project unanimously in November. But the mural got derailed at the Nov. 20 council meeting where some council members questioned whether the mural was consistent with the rest of Old Town Keller.
“This is going to be visible from Keller Parkway and also is a part of Old Town Keller, which we are spending a good amount of money to study and create a very cohesive arts and entertainment and dining district,” Councilman Tag Green said in November.
The item was pulled from the consent agenda and tabled so the council members could get more information. Zamora met with three council members to address concerns, including a quote by U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke that talked about kneeling being patriotic.
Zamora acknowledged that the quote could be polarizing so she replaced it with a different O’Rourke quote about peace, love and respect.
The community rallied behind her with more than 600 signatures in support of the project. Of those, 555 were Keller residents. Many of the supporters were high school students she met while volunteering in the local theater programs, helping the students learn how to paint sets.
She also met personally with the neighboring business owners and residents in Old Town Keller to get their support.
Many of them showed up at the Dec. 18 meeting to speak or just show their support of the project.
Marty Baker, a youth pastor at Heritage Church of Christ, said he’s encouraged by the art’s positive message.
“I was very moved by it. I see a lot of hurt in students. I see a lot of the divisiveness in families,” Baker told the council. “I desperately want this to be in front of our students and our community.”
The show of support may have swayed the council.
“What was astonishing to me was to have people order T-shirts, sign their name, show up tonight, whom I have never met and I’m not connected with,” Zamora said. “They just believe in what I’m doing. Not only the public art part of it but also my rights as a business owner.”
Councilman Mitch Holmes said he supports the project and apologized to Zamora for the firestorm it created on social media.
“I’ve watched you defend that over the course of the month,” Holmes said. “It is your right to express yourself.”
Councilman Sean Hicks said he was surprised the item got pulled at the November meeting.
“When I saw it initially, while it’s not my kind of art, per se, I believe in free speech and free expression,” Hicks said in an interview before the meeting. “I didn’t see any problem at all. I didn’t see any issue with the art or the content so I didn’t see any need to set it aside.”
Zamora said the criticism on social media made it feel personal.
“That was the part that was hardest for me because I had people questioning my intentions,” Zamora said.
Councilmen Chris Whatley and Green voted against the project. Though he voted against it, Green said he’s a great fan of the arts.
“I’m sorry for the things that have been said that aren’t really pertinent,” Green said. “I think you’re completely free to do whatever artwork you want. I appreciate immensely what you do for the arts for children.”
Whatley said his problem was with the definition of a mural versus a sign. The fact that it’s painted on a separate canvas and affixed to the side of the wall should make it a sign. Other than that, he supports the artwork.
“I applaud you artistic endeavors,” Whatley said. “I also applaud your efforts to get involved in the community and get them behind you.”