Artist Says City of Fort Worth Threatened Him With Trespassing Charge and Kicked Him Off His Own Free Mural Series

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Fort Worth officials may not have heard that old adage about looking a gift horse in the mouth. This is at the heart of the recent conflict between local artist JD Moore and the city’s graffiti reduction program.

When Moore was painting a mural in Fort Worth last September, he said he was approached by a city representative and invited to join the program with a mural project.

In November, he said he accepted the proposal even though it was free and paid only for paint and material because he was interested in contributing to the community and thought he would make a solid entry on his resume.

“I personally agreed to do this for free because I wanted something on my résumé under the guise of volunteering or donating to the city,” he says. “In essence, you know, later on … when I become a skilled artist, I want the credit to donate my services to the community.”

Moore signed the dossier in November and his plans were “approved by multiple officials,” he says. He started work in December.

The project consisted of a series of murals across eight pillars on the North Henderson Street Bridge in Fort Worth.
Because of the workload, Moore recruited his girlfriend, friends, and even dozen of high school volunteers to help over the next several months.

The contract he signed had no deadline.

A few months after the project began, Moore said the Superintendent of the Parks and Recreation Department Michael Tovar had objected to the art and feared people would believe the city had a “side” on the issue of racism.

“He wasn’t satisfied with the content. He didn’t like the fact that there were mostly dark-skinned people, ”says Moore.

Moore says Tovar asked to change one of the faces on the mural to represent a different race.

“He says, and I quote,” There are sure to be a lot of African Americans here, “says Moore.” He says, ‘We want to make sure that we can address a problem that may arise, which is that we don’t want people to think that the graffiti reduction program is racist or that we choose to side. ‘”

Moore says Tovar pointed to one of the characters and said, “Let’s shoot this one Chinese man.”

“And I had to throw in,” says Moore. “I said I can’t because this is a real person. I took this picture of this person and I am not going to make them look like a Chinese person. Or I won’t make up what a Chinese looks like because I don’t practice my art that way. “

Moore says after explaining this to Tovar, Tovar replied, “I know if the paint gets wet it’s a color, it’s a dark color. If it dries it might get easier and we don’t have to worry about it. “

Tovar didn’t return our request for comment, but spoke to Fort Worth Weekly about an April 20th story.

“Anyone can walk by there without knowing who the artist was or what he was up to,” Tovar told the publication. ‘I see African Americans so I’m going to complain because there are no whites or Chinese.’ Our concern was to protect ourselves. ”

“I agreed to donate my time that didn’t include a deadline.” – JD Moore

Shortly afterwards, says Moore, Tovar asked him to start working on the murals. Moore says he was not given a completion date but was asked for some progress through April.

“There was nothing in writing; It’s all hearsay, ”says Moore. “You know what I’ve been told is, ‘By this date, April 9th, we want to start a process of sealing these pillars, so let’s start with that, and if you’re going to start with what’s left, not done, you can still work on it. We want you to keep working on it. Once these are done, we will seal them and label them complete. ‘

“But the language of a deadline, I think, suggests that I need them to get the whole thing done, and because there are incomplete pieces, they made the decision to undress me.”

Moore says he will have completed more of the work, five of the eight pillars, by April 9, but Tovar told him he would remove him from the project. And, he added, if Moore returned to the location of the mural he would be charged with trespassing.

“Did I mention the word trespassing?” Tovar told Fort Worth Weekly. “I don’t remember that time.”

The mural is in public ownership.

Moore says he was never told why they needed a deadline or how urgent the city was to complete the project in a given time frame.

“I feel like I’m being left in the dark on priority to get it done on time because this was presented to me as being in the middle of the project,” he says. “Four months after working on it, I was told that there had to be so much of it by a certain time.”

Moore says he had a day job as a tattoo artist and worked on several paid assignments while working on the mural series. Had Fort Worth given him a deadline from the start, he might not have signed up for the project.

“It would have made a difference if I had agreed to do so much,” he says. “I don’t know if the provisions would have been acceptable had there been a deadline.”

The murals took a lot longer than he would have expected within a short period of time.

“I’m not being compensated directly for my time creating this work, and it is important to know that this amount of work is unprecedented for this program to do this amount of work by one person,” he says. “I agreed to donate my time that didn’t include a deadline. Therefore, if there is a deadline, I reserve deadlines for paid work. That’s why I have to be paid and I have a tariff. “

After Moore’s conversation with Tovar, in which he said he learned he was being fired from the project, he posted a video on Instagram describing his experience and showing the work he had completed at the time. He said he thought the decision was “racially motivated”.

“He doesn’t like me because I am and what I represent, and he personally wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t interrupt his plan, my vision and what art stands for,” says Moore Tovar.

The program’s coordinators soon reached out to other artists and offered them the rest of the space that once belonged to Moore.

One artist who turned down the offer was Choke, who after being contacted by the city said she watched Moore’s video and “started connecting the dots” and emailed a Fort Worth -Coordinator put online.

“We were currently working on a mural with an artist who was unable to complete the mural in the required timeframe,” said the email to Choke. “We’re 90% done with the mural, but we really need someone to finish the mural as quickly as possible.”

“I was angry, of course, but even angrier when I found out who to quit work for,” says Choke. “Totally pissed me off, so [Moore] and I’ve teamed up to address the problem. “

Choke’s response in the email is, “So I read that you have a mural that’s 90% complete but you have a deadline but it’s unpaid? But you need to get it done ASAP for you can continue another project? but it’s unpaid? “

In her answer, the artist also asked why she did not allow the artist to complete the work.

“I’m assuming it will take longer to complete than expected as this artist has a job and family to look after, and this mural project is probably HUGE,” she wrote.

Other artists also showed their solidarity with Moore. On Saturday, a group of figures from the art scene gathered in an event called Artists Call to Action to discuss ways for artists to protect themselves from situations like Moore’s.

“In the past few days we have come to realize that we were not working to the highest standards with the mural painted on North Henderson,” writes Karen Stuhmer, supervisor at Fort Worth Parks and Community Services, in an email to the Observer. “After many hours of discussion with various organizational partners, we are looking for ways in which we can improve and formalize the processes of the graffiti reduction program, especially in relation to artists. Over the past 30 years we have teamed up with community volunteers to almost complete 100 murals through our graffiti reduction program, we are sure we can work with our partners to find a way to continue this program and make it even better.

“With respect to the Henderson Street Bridge mural project, Mr. Moore has no time limit to complete the mural as originally planned and the staff will continue to provide assistance. We apologize for any misunderstandings related to this particular project and look forward to working with Mr. . Moore when he finishes his work. “

The Saturday event, Moore says, had “really big participation and included artists like UN, another artist that GAP has taken advantage of [the Graffiti Abatement Project]. ”

“We organize artists here in the Metroplex to set new standards for artists and people who want to occupy us,” says Moore, “so that we can avoid this problem and in any other way can happen again, so that we can avoid that artists are being exploited. “

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Eva Raggio is the music and arts editor for the Dallas Observer, a position she accepted for the newspaper after several years writing about local culture and music. Eva supports the arts by seldom asking to be put on the “list” and always replies to emails unless the word “pimp” is part of the artist name.

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