When the Brookfield Village Board adopted its Energize Ogden master plan for that commercial corridor last summer, one of the “toolkits” included to help officials implement the plan’s goals was murals.
“Throughout Ogden Avenue, there are unactivated and unembellished walls,” the plan states. “Murals provide a low-cost way to not only enhance these walls, but also embody them with history, storytelling, and placemaking that will help distinguish Ogden Avenue in Brookfield from other communities.”
The trouble is, Brookfield’s zoning code doesn’t allow such public art.
But that’s not expected to last much longer. On July 24, trustees are expected to approve a new Public Art Mural Program that would establish a formal application and approval process to pave the way for more public art in Brookfield.
The new program is the result of more than two years of efforts by village planning staff and the Brookfield Beautification Commission, an advisory group that has tackled public art projects, such as the dragonfly sculpture near the Prairie Avenue Metra stop, in in the past.
“I think it’s a good idea, especially, if we have businesses — and these are mostly new businesses — that are willing to put that investment into beautifying their building,” said Carla Close-Prosen, chairwoman of the Brookfield Beautification Commission. “It’s not going to be cheap, either.”
The program, which will be folded into the village code, permits murals to be located in the Ogden Avenue, Grand/Prairie, Eight Corners and 31st Street commercial districts as well as the 47th Street industrial district.
It limits murals to one wall per building and one building per zoning lot and also limits them to secondary facades, not primary street facades, and can’t interrupt architectural features, such as doors and windows.
Murals must cover at least 64 square feet, can’t extend more than 6 inches from the plane of the wall and must be sealed with anti-graffiti and a UV coating. In addition, the coatings have to be durable enough to hold up long term in the harsh weather.
They also can’t be lit at night by any type of artificial illumination.
“While the hope would be that the public art murals would be sort of a destination and attract interest outside of the village, there was also sensitivity to not having interested parties showing up late in the evening and gathering for photos,” Village Planner Kate Portillo told elected officials during a presentation of the program at the July 10 committee of the whole meeting.
The Brookfield Beautification Commission would initially vet mural applications and then, based on program standards, accept, deny or accept the application with conditions.
If they approve, the village board will grant final permission via resolution and after getting a signed maintenance agreement from the artists and property owner.
Applications must include a color rendering of the proposed mural; information about the artist, including samples of previous work; a maintenance plan; and a written description of the mural, a timeline, budget and funding source.
The program also includes specific approval standards that call for mural content to “inspire, educate or advocate for at least one aspect of the community vibrancy, diversity, traditions or family-friendly character of Brookfield.”
Murals can’t function as signage or advertisements for any business and can’t contain symbols, logos or slogans implying products or services.
While there was some question over how exactly those standards would be interpreted, Trustee Katie Kaluzny, the village board’s liaison to the Beautification Commission, said the artists themselves would provide that interpretation in the application.
“The biggest concern of the commission is interpreting the art, but one of the pieces of the application … is the narrative component that would have a discussion of what the art means, and so we wouldn’t have to interpret the art,” said Kaluzny. “They would also be describing it in the application.”
Brookfield resident Barbara Dahm told elected officials at the meeting that she strongly opposed allowing murals, saying, “Improve the buildings themselves and forget about these murals. In time, the paint is going to chip and it’s going to look like hell.”