(WXYZ) — The Michigan Supreme Court is hearing a case that could expand protections for street artists.
At the center of the lawsuit is the Whaling Wall, a 1997 mural painted on Broderick Tower.
It’s a downtown Detroit staple, but now it’s covered in Rocket Mortgage ads.
Advertisements can be seen from Comerica Park, making it the preferred location for corporate giants.
“I remember going to a Tigers game and seeing the mural. I liked it,” said Macruel, who lives in Broderick Tower.
The artist, known as Wyland, said it was the 18th time a company had covered his mural.
“For me, this wall is important. I have to protect it from GM, Rebook, Nike,” Wieland said.
The mural is nearly 20 stories high. Wylan said the painting was part of a series of eight murals he completed in eight weeks.
He said some people might wonder: Why paint a whale in Detroit? Here is his answer.
“I want people to ask this question,” Wylan said. “It’s all about water, freshwater habitats, saltwater habitats, and the idea of having whales in Detroit connects people.”
“You know the lake is connected to the ocean and we have to protect both,” he added.
Wyland is known for his ocean-inspired art and conservation work through his non-profit The Wyland Foundation.
“When you do it on a large scale, I mean it’s powerful. You can choose not to go into an art museum, but you can’t ignore the huge murals,” he said.
Under the Visual Arts Rights Act, the company can put up temporary vinyl banners because it won’t damage or destroy the murals.
“Putting up a vinyl banner temporarily over a piece of historic art, you know, kind of bypasses the Visual Copyright Act,” said Steve Creech, a California attorney representing the Wyland Foundation.
He’s now taking the fight to the Supreme Court.
“It was challenged by the owner, Detroit Media Group, but the judges saw merit in it. They reviewed it and accepted it because they believed it would resolve an important legal issue in Michigan,” said Creech.
The issue sparked conflict among some Detroiters because the banner actually featured the work of Phil Simpson, a local black artist known for depicting diversity.
“I think he’s what we call a blast, and it’s nice that he also has a chance to show his art,” said Detroit native Ramses Dukes.
There’s another problem with the ad’s placement, Creech said.
According to the documents, US Outdoor leased the exterior part of the building facing the stadium for advertising from around 2004 to 2005. Meanwhile, building owners are applying to the National Park Service for a federal historic preservation tax credit to pay for renovations the following year.
Basically, according to Creech, everyone kicked the can down and covered the Wyland mural with 18 different ads until the NPS approved the building for a five-year historic preservation tax credit starting in 2012.
The issue was subsequently flagged by NPS when it found the owner was trying to install another sign in 2014. The NPS warns owners that the certification may be revoked if the owner undertakes more unapproved project work that meets federal restoration standards.
This means there will be no more murals until the 2018 NPS tax credit eligibility period ends. At that time, the issue of the owner abandoning the permit was raised. Disputes over license abandonment issues from 2018 to present.
Creech says the 2022 Wyland Foundation/Wyland Amicus Brief adds a larger dimension to the fight to save public art under the Visual Artists Bill of Rights Act of 1990.
“We said it would be unconscionable to treat an important work of public art like the Wylan mural in the Broderick Building,” Creech said.
We reached out to the Rocket Mortgage and Broderick Tower rental offices for comment but have yet to hear back.
Remember, the Michigan Supreme Court only reviews 4% of the cases on its docket. Now, it’s a waiting game.
“The Supreme Court has agreed to accept that fact. They think it’s about the whole state, other artists, maybe even the whole country,” Creech said.