Could Arts District become ‘blank slate?’ Concerns grow after one mural’s destruction

There are growing concerns among locals and businesses in Downtown’s Arts District that art could be leaving Las Vegas.
Published: Jun. 1, 2022 at 10:10 PM PDT
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LAS VEGAS, Nev. (FOX5) -There are growing concerns among locals and businesses in Downtown’s Arts District that art could be leaving Las Vegas, after a beloved mural was painted over and possibly destroyed for good.

The commissioned mural painted by renowned artist Xavi Panneton at the corner of Main Street and Imperial Avenue was suddenly covered by white paint. According to a now-deleted post from advertising company Visionary Walls, an ad was planned for that space instead.

“It gives me a lot of life and joy to create that. That mural is going to bring joy to the community and be something that helps define the spirit of the neighborhood. I immediately was extremely hurt and disappointed,” Panneton said, telling FOX5 he was not notified about the mural’s impending destruction.

An owner listed on Clark County records for the building on the 1400 block of South Main Street said, he recently sold part of the building to someone else two months ago, and called the mural “beautiful.” He was unable to provide the name of the new owner and the realtor who oversaw the transaction.

I’m friends with, a lot of local artists, and it’s sad to hear when they said that they’re worried that they can’t afford to be there. They represent the art district,” Panneton said.

FOX5 recently told you how independent artists are being forced to move out of the arts district due to rising rents up to 400%, and changing ownership from corporate investors.

The situation has neighbors such as Nevada Brew Works outraged. Owner Lauren Taylor has taken to social media to raise awareness about the plight of art in the arts district. “They’ve covered up such an iconic masterpiece of art with an ad. It just hurts my soul. It hurts our community,” Taylor said.

City of Las Vegas spokesperson Jace Radke released the following statement:

“The mural in question was painted on private property. As such, the owner of that private property can decide if they want to keep the mural or not. The mural in question was not a partnership between the city and the owner of the property. Murals are a big part of the downtown Las Vegas vibe and we have seen many go up in partnership with Life is Beautiful, and prior to that, with the city of Las Vegas Centennial Celebration. It is an organic process where artists and property owners work together to create public art pieces. The city supports public art, but other than the city sponsored projects through the Las Vegas Arts Commission, the city’s role is to ensure that any applicable city codes are followed.”

According to Fennemore Law, there are federal rules governing murals and artists in the 1990 Visual Artist Rights Act, or VARA, and published an article for awareness.

FOX5 inquired with the author, attorney Mario Vasta, on protections for artists across Downtown Las Vegas. He answered our following questions:

Does any mural artist have a claim for protection, under VARA? Do they need a copyright for VARA protection?

Generally, yes, the Visual Artist Rights Act (“VARA”) provides rights to authors of visual art, including mural artists. A person acquires a copyright when they create artwork without the need to formally register the copyright (although formal registration provides broader rights). Under VARA, a mural artist has the right to prevent “intentional distortion, mutilation, or modification” of the artwork, among other rights. Absent a signed agreement under which the artist provides the owner of a building the right to destroy or modify the artwork, that owner may not have the right to do so, and should seek out legal advice before taking action, or else risk being found liable for significant damages.

There are plenty of murals around Downtown Las Vegas. What rights do artists have or not have?

In addition to the above comments, the artist also has the right to receive notice from the owner of the property on which the artist’s work was created that the owner intends to move the artwork, assuming that such removal can be done without destroying the art. In that case, the owner must attempt to give notice and then the artist has 90 days to remove the artwork. This does not apply if the artwork cannot be removed without destruction, in which case, as stated above, the owner must be careful because if he or she does not have permission from the artist to destroy the artwork, the owner could potentially be subject to significant damages.