Neighborhood Murals Attract Complaints in NLR, Jacksonville

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, AR - After being asked to paint a traffic light box in the city's historic Park Hill neighborhood about a year ago - only to have it removed after complaints of it being too ethnic -- one artist says it's happening again - only this time in Jacksonville.

Painting is Theresa Cates' passion, she gets joy out of it.

"I do, I started painting probably when I was five years old," she says.

Her style is African American folk art. 

"Growing up that's all I saw, the culture, church so that's what's on the inside of me," Cates adds.

Her works landed her volunteer jobs outside painting traffic light boxes, one of them in Park Hill about a year ago. But her depiction of African American ladies wearing church hats did not portray the perfect scenery for everyone.

“The city asked me to do it then and I did it and they removed it," Cates reports.

Now, the City of Jacksonville has enlisted her talents, asking her to paint two light boxes. She's finished one so far. 

"The person that was over the Beautification Department saw this particular piece which is in the gallery and that's what they wanted on the box, so it was pre-approved," Cates says.

The box at North First St. and E. Martin St. in Jacksonville shows a pastor and church members with Bibles, dancing on a piano.

But again, more complaints, Theresa says at least one of those, calling her work too "ghetto." 

"If it will be removed, I'm not sure," she says.

We spoke to the Mayor of Jacksonville, who did not want to go on camera but says, he did receive complaints.

We asked drivers pulling up to the light what they thought about the mural, one man said, “It's art, everybody has their own thing."

Another man said, “I think it's interesting."

Cates says even though she was told to hold off by the Beautification Department on painting a second box, the mayor told us she can paint it, but it will have to promote the City of Jacksonville.

Cates says as far as she's concerned, "There will not be a second box painted," if she can't paint what's in her heart.

The mayor says there was miscommunication on his end with the Beautification Department on what would be painted on the box.

The mayor says his idea would be similar to murals in the Argenta District or Dickey-Stephens Park with children on it or college logos.

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