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Artist Wins Case Involving Mural

An artist whose community mural was painted over by a liquor store owner last summer was awarded nearly $50,000 in damages by the U.S. District Court last week.

The anti-drug and anti-alcohol mural painted in 1994 by artist M. B. Hanrahan and about 300 residents was whitewashed last summer and replaced by an American flag. But the court decided Hanrahan’s mural should not have been touched.

“I’m happy for the community and I’m happy for the artists, all mural artists,” said Robert Rootenberg, Hanrahan’s attorney. “This certainly vindicates their rights as artists. Community murals can be very empowering and bring people together and have such a strong draw for change.”

Hanrahan, who teaches at Ventura College, filed suit last fall against Avenue Liquor store owners Kamil Yousef and Tony Touma after they painted over the county-funded mural that was designed to discourage criminals from frequenting the area.

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The mural gained national attention in 1996 when it was one of 50 community art pieces selected for an exhibition in Washington, D.C. Touma said he plans to appeal the decision and contends that the mural hurt business. When Touma took over the business from Raymond Ramirez in July 1997, keeping the mural intact was not part of the deal, he said.

“I am a businessman. I don’t care for anything outside my business,” Touma said. “When I make money, I make money for the county.”

Using the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, which protects artists’ work, Judge Richard A. Paez not only awarded $48,488 in damages but gave Hanrahan the right to restore the original mural or repaint a new one.

“That’s the best part--that she gets to repaint the mural and they have to stand back and watch,” Rootenberg said.

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Touma said he cannot pay the damages and will not permit a new mural to be painted while he runs the store. About 200 customers signed a petition saying that if a new mural goes up, they will stop shopping at the Ventura Avenue store.

Touma’s attorney Tony Forberg would not comment on the case.


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