Artist Sues Store Owner Over Mural

A local artist has filed a lawsuit against the owner of Avenue Liquor for painting over her mural.

M.B. Hanrahan filed the lawsuit Thursday against Tony Touma based on the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990. That law prohibits people from destroying a piece of artwork without the artist's permission.

The artwork, which was funded by the Ventura County Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs, featured anti-gang and anti-drug messages aimed at discouraging criminals from frequenting the area.

Earlier this summer, Touma decided the colorful mural on his south wall was bad for business and painted half of it out with an American flag. His actions prompted a firestorm of protest among west-side residents.

Hanrahan's lawyer, Robert Rootenberg, said his client is asking that Touma allow her to restore the mural. He said they are also asking Touma to agree not to deface it any further. He said they may pursue compensatory damages for harm to reputation, and punitive damages, because it was a willful act.

On Friday afternoon, Touma said he wanted to talk with Hanrahan to try to resolve their dispute.

"When I see her, when she talks to me, maybe we try to get help together," Touma said.

The 12-by-72-foot mural gained national acclaim last year when it became one of 50 pieces of community art selected for depiction in an exhibit in Washington, D.C.

The vibrant mural was painted on the wall in 1994 by local children under the direction of Hanrahan, who teaches at Ventura College.

On Monday the city's Design Review Committee decided the owner must white out the sign he painted over the mural without city approval.

He complied promptly. And residents of the Westside Community Council expressed hope that some agreement among the artist, the owner and the community could be reached.

Touma said the lawyer told him that if he paid $10,000 they would drop the case.

"If she finds some nice mural, it's OK," he said. "It has . . . the blood, that's not good for kids. I want to think of something that won't scare the kids."

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