Louisville Metro Council District 1 candidate Jessica Green is slamming incumbent Attica Scott over a public art project in the Parkland neighborhood that was backed by several community groups.
The Parkland Rising mural features a phoenix rising from the ashes covering the entirety of an abandoned two-story apartment building at the corner of 32nd Street and Greenwood Avenue. The Center for Neighborhoods partnered with the Parkland Neighborhood Improvement Association and other community groups to commission the project last year.
When the mural was first unveiled last summer, Scott said it “provided inspiration” to residents.
A week ahead of the May 20 primary election, however, Green released a double-sided mailer featuring a photograph of the mural that attacks Scott for supporting it.
“Is this how you want your tax dollars spent? My opponent thinks so,” Green says. “I don’t want this in my neighborhood, and you neither should you.”
This is the latest jab in what’s a closely watched Democratic primary race—but the artist behind the mural, Ramona Dallum Lindsey, says Green is misleading voters about the project’s funding and using the artwork to score political points.
Artist ‘Offended’ by Green Mailer
When the finished project was unveiled last year, it received the praise of community groups and city leaders alike.
In a July 10 e-mail to Scott, Mayor Greg Fischer said it was “outstanding” and remarked on the historical postings about the neighborhood surrounding the mural.
Lindsey, who is a sculptor and substitute teacher, says the public art initiative was created to inspire the community in the aftermath of a 2012 triple homicide in the Parkland neighborhood.
And she is upset about the Green mailer.
“I was extremely offended by the ad,” says Lindsey. “It tells me that Ms. Green may be a little out of touch of what’s going on in that neighborhood. We had over 300 people involved in this project. I stood outside the building and I heard kids walk by and look at me and say, ‘We did good work,’ and ‘I’m proud of this.’ I had residents say, ‘Finally something that makes me smile.”
The program is called Producing Art In Neighborhoods Together, or PAINT, which coordinates with local artists and community residents. A final report of the grant application provided to WFPL shows Parkland neighborhood groups, area churches, and community centers were also partners in the project.
Among them were the Parkland Boys & Girls, which provided work and storage space and youth participants; Ebenezer Baptist Church, which provided meeting space and a garden planter; Youth Build Louisville, which helped produce art materials; and the West End School, which provided youth volunteers.
“To me it sounds like that’s a community looking for something that makes them proud, and art can help do that. To me it sounds like Ms. Green is stretching for something to say,” says Lindsey.
Asked if she is against the mural as the mailer indicates, Green told WFPL she loves the arts and has no qualms with “Parkland Rising” specifically, but that painting over abandoned or vacant properties in west Louisville is not the best use of public funds.
“What I don’t want is a usage of taxpayer dollars that is not going to improve the life of the residents,” says Green.
Among the ideas Green lists in the campaign ad to combat those eyesores are holding landlords accountable for their property, increasing home ownership and using “tax dollars to help you improve your home.”
“There are people in the district who need their homes painted,” she says. “Real live residents who have their homes caving in on top of them, yet we will take money and paint a project like that while the real people are struggling. That’s something I have an issue with.”
‘Parkland Rising’ Funding
The mailer’s backside also suggests council discretionary money went towards “Parkland Rising.” It says specifically that Scott is choosing to “use your tax dollars painting absent landlord’s homes.”
But Scott’s office provided no District 1 discretionary funds towards the initial project.
Last year, the city’s Housing & Family Services Department provided the Center for Neighborhoods with an $8,300 grant through its external agency fund. The center awarded Lindsey a portion of that grant to design the mural.
“Councilwoman Scott was very supportive of that because she understands and has been to conferences on how public art can really change the perception of a neighborhood in dealing with vacant properties,” says Center for Center for Neighborhoods Associate Director Lisa Dettlinger. “There have been many studies on that, but Parkland Rising was funded by (external agency) grants and not by Councilwoman Scott.”
There are three new public art projects slated for District 1: two in the Parkland and one in the Chickasaw neighborhood. Those $4,700 grants will come from Scott’s discretionary spending.
When asked about the mailer’s assertion about funding, Green says she is referencing all public funds used to paint vacant properties and not Scott’s discretionary funding in particular.
“I believe in rising Parkland, but let’s have a comprehensive plan that does not just involve paint,” says Green.
A recent study to revitalize the West End neighborhood has made a number of recommendations including new infrastructure, streetscape enhancements, and tree planting. It was during a trolley tour of the district last month when Scott announced she is seeking a $1 million to be allocated in the city budget to implement the Parkland plan.
“To me it’s offensive to the 300 people in District 1 who helped to create that project, including elders and youth, who wanted to see something different in a neighborhood that has for far too long gone neglected,” says Scott. “It’s unfortunate that a project that is just about a year old is just now getting attention from my opponent.”
Scott adds that Green’s mailer is also misleading voters by insinuating that discretionary or public funds can be used to help individual homeowners.
“The message that’s being sent to taxpayers in District 1 is that we can use taxpayer dollars to fix up individual houses,” Scott says. “We can’t fix up my opponent’s with taxpayer dollars. We can’t fix up my house with taxpayer dollars. What we can do is fund organizations like the Disability Resource Center or Metro Housing Resource Authority to make needed external repairs for the disabled or seniors citizens.”