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Mandan leaders consider idea to solve dispute over bar mural

September 21, 2019

MANDAN, N.D. (AP) — Mandan city leaders are considering a proposal to solve an ongoing dispute about whether a Western-themed bar should be allowed to keep a mural in front of the building.

The Lonesome Dove bar artwork and all other existing murals would be permitted under the proposed ordinance, but new murals would have to follow a different set of standards, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

Lonesome Dove owners Brian Berube and August Kersten sued the city over freedom of speech in May after they were ordered to remove the mural. The painting depicts the name of the bar along with a rearing horseman against brown hills at sunset.

The bar owners allege that requiring mural permits “allows the city to play art critic by demanding changes to murals’ artistic details,” according to court records. The city denies the accusations, saying the mural is an “illegal sign for which plaintiffs painted the sign first and then applied for permission second.”

City leaders hope that by exempting Lonesome Dove from amended mural regulations, it can reach a settlement with Berube and Kersten.

The proposed ordinance allows owners to paint wall murals on buildings without approval from the Mandan Architecture Review Commission, which is required in the current guidelines. It would also no longer prohibit painting on the front of a building.

Robert Frommer, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, the law firm representing the Lonesome Dove, said the proposed ordinance “raises significant constitutional concerns.” He said he opposes how the proposed ordinance prohibits wall murals that “sell a product or advertise an establishment.”

Artist Melissa Gordon, who has painted several murals in Bismarck and Mandan, said she supports the ordinance. Gordon said she has projects scheduled in Mandan, so she is waiting for the initiative to be approved by the city commission.

City commissioners will vote on the proposal Oct. 1.

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Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com

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