The Waller mural story

I’m going to keep an eye on this.

Even before artists Brad Smith and Kay Ray-Smith finished their first contracted mural in Waller, northwest of Houston, the community took notice — and lots of photos.

“It instantly, as we were working on it, became a selfie wall. There were so many cars we could barely paint,” Ray-Smith recalled Friday.

But since then, the couple say, things have taken an upsetting turn. One resident took issue with their first mural: Its colors were too bright, in her view. Waller City Council then, in February, adopted an ordinance severely restricting new murals in the town of less than 3,000.

So last week the Smiths, whose company is called Tilt Vision Art, filed suit against the city of Waller in federal court, claiming the mural ordinance is an unconstitutional restriction on free speech. They want the ordinance repealed.


“The whole thing just really makes me angry and very, very sad,” said Ray-Smith, explaining that she and Smith decided to reach out to attorneys because they felt the ordinance doesn’t just restrict their rights; it could stifle the free expression of other artists, business owners and residents who want to paint a Christmas tree on their barn or a portrait of Willie Nelson on their garage door.

“At the end of the day, artistic expression is covered by the First Amendment,” said Joshua Polk, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit focused on economic freedom that is representing the Smiths in their suit. “What our clients want to do is earn a living bringing happiness to people with public art.”

Pacific Legal previously sued the city of Houston over an ordinance restricting performing music in public, Polk said. That ordinance was deemed unconstitutional and struck down by a federal judge in December, after which Houston formally removed it from the books.

Waller Mayor Danny Marburger did not immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did any member of Waller City Council.

Waller’s new ordinance stipulates no murals on residential buildings or on the primary facade of any building. It also prohibits murals that contain commercial messages or advertising, as many of Tilt Vision’s murals for businesses do. Artists who want to put a mural on the side of a nonresidential building must register it with the city in advance, a process that includes substantial paperwork and a nonrefundable $500 fee.

You can see examples of this couple’s work here, and I found a story about Kay Ray-Smith and her art here. My non-lawyer’s opinion of this city ordinance is that it does seem excessively strict, for reasons that are not clear to me. I could see the Ray-Smiths winning in court, though there’s always uncertainty in that. I’m on their side, for what that’s worth.

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2 Responses to The Waller mural story

  1. Flypusher says:

    “One resident took issue with their first mural: Its colors were too bright, in her view.”

    I suppose she prefers those awful developments where all the houses are the same color? This is why we can’t have nice things.

  2. Kay Ray says:

    Thank you so very much for this article and the support. It means the world to me personally. I and my husband Brad are taking this stand for everyone now and in the future.
    We hope this gets resolved soon and the community benefits from this in the end.
    Again, thank you.

    Kay Ray-Smith

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