By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Sep 23, 2020 at 5:06 PM

When the City of Historic Preservation Commission denied a request to paint a massive voting rights mural on the side of the Railway Exchange Building, 229 E. Wisconsin Ave., in August, the commission expressed concerned about painting the mural on unpainted brick on a historic building.

It also said it was working on guidelines for this type of artwork on masonry on historic buildings.

A set of guidelines has now been drawn up by the commission and they will be discussed at a special meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 30, at 3 p.m.

According to a press release issued late Wednesday, afternoon, “Prompted by an increase in the creation of murals as a form of public art, Ms. Sally Peltz, chair of the commission, said the desire is to establish a set of reasonable standards to manage the placement and maintenance of murals on historic structures in order to preserve those structures for the future.”

Back in August, Stacey Williams-Ng, of Wallpapered City, which was organizing the Railway Exchange mural project, called the decision, "an overreach, (because) there is currently no ordinance in place to allow the HPC explicit control over murals on historical buildings."

In Wednesday's press release Peltz said, “Our intention is neither to regulate the content of murals nor to decide what is good or bad art.”

The draft guidelines – which can be downloaded in PDF form here – lay out a set of application requirements, design standards and guidelines for removal of murals from historic buildings.

The guidelines would apply only to buildings designated historic by the City of Milwaukee.

They begin with this statement:

"The Milwaukee Historic Preservation Commission directed staff to draft guidelines for the installation of murals on locally designated historic properties in the City of Milwaukee. Mural requests in Milwaukee have been made by individuals and groups as the popularity of outdoor murals, and the availability of funding mechanisms has increased in recent years. The Historic Preservation Commission felt that such requests for murals on locally-designated properties required discussion and a set of guidelines by which to make informed decisions about granting Certificates of Appropriateness. The draft guidelines prepared below are the result of combing through mural guidelines for historic properties in numerous communities throughout the country."

Some of the guidelines include prohibiting murals on building sides facing or parallel with the street; prohibiting murals on unpainted masonry, instead installing them on removable materials that are anchored in an undamaging way; and ensuring that installations are reversible.

Murals are also prohibited from covering windows, doors, cornices and other architectural elements, with some exceptions, which are outlined in the guidelines.

"These guidelines by the HPC are a thinly veiled attempt to control and suppress artists’ voices in our city," said WIlliams-Ng on Wednesday after reading the document. "Lucky for our citizens, these guidelines do not apply to all buildings in the city, although these politicians and committee members will surely try to make it seem as though this applies to all 'old buildings.'

"It just means that moving forward, organizations like ImagineMKE and others have our work cut out for us, to educate people about what our rights are for self-expression, both in terms of local laws and constitutional rights to freedom of speech."

The meeting will be broadcast live on the City Channel (Spectrum Cable 25) and streamed live at and public comment is invited at the same link using the eComment system.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.