ON V IEW
Reservation About Preservation:
Old is touching,
but it’s a lot
New is more
and you get
a rush out
DAN SEARS ’ 74
‘The murals were not intended to
last forever. They were intended to
be a phenomenon of their time.”
Twenty years ago, Michael Brown ’ 77
took his house-painting skills to the streets of
Chapel Hill and has since dotted the town’s
alleyways and brick walls with turtles, puzzle
pieces and color-by-number football players.
Locals have their favorites, and the connections visitors develop communicate the
town’s openness for artistic expression and
But as much as the Preservation Society
of Chapel Hill is committed to preserving
the works, Brown said the murals were
never intended to outlive 20 years of display.
“I never thought they’d be popular as a
body,” he said. “It wasn’t planned on that
they would be saved.”
Ernest Dollar, director of the Preservation Society, said the group is sending letters to town building owners and working
with the Downtown Partnership to secure
a $12,000 grant to preserve the murals.
“Nothing in this town represents the
diversity in this town like those murals,”
Dollar said at a recent society meeting.
But Brown doesn’t want talk of mural
maintenance to be construed as a self-serving attitude conveying preservation
of a legacy that is solely his.
“That’s just not right,” he said. “A lot
of people would be pretty offended if a
Chapel Hill business owner painted one
of my murals out, but I wouldn’t be at all.
“I would much rather do new paintings,” he said. “Old is touching, but it’s a lot
of work. New is more fun and challenging,
and you get a rush out of it.”
For instance, he said he’d like to paint a
mural opposite the Diversity Parade in
Porthole Alley depicting a crowd watching
the parade go by.
For Brown, the real discussion is about
the role of art in a community the size of
Chapel Hill while it lasts, rather than its
longevity. He said his murals have actually
become a broader cultural statement.
“These murals have become a demonstration of having living, cultural art — not
something, like MTV, that comes out of a
tube from New York,” he said. “People par-