Dog Groomer Sues To Keep Gigantic Dog Mural on Her Building

UPDATED:  Here is a link to a another post discussing the case.

On December 2, Kim Houghton, owner of a dog daycare and grooming business in Virginia, filed a lawsuit in federal court arguing that the government violated her First Amendment rights when it ordered her to modify a mural on her building.  The Institute for Justice is helping the dog groomer bring this lawsuit.

At the center of the controversy is this 60-foot by 16-foot mural of cartoon dogs on a wall outside her store and facing a public dog park:

Supporters of the dog groomer emphasize that the giant mural is tasteful, and more attractive than a blank wall.  While not Siouxsie’s taste, she can understand that some folks might enjoy this.  But there is a reason why communities and local government regulate business signs  — not everyone shares the same taste, and not everyone will want enormous murals advertising neighboring businesses in their park.

It makes sense that local governments seek to regulate the size and/or content of signs.   Sure these rules are annoying, but if you don’t want your community to look like the Vegas strip, Times Square or Staten Island, then you need these rules.   And the community has to enforce those rules fairly.  Just because a mural features cartoon puppies jumping around, doesn’t mean the the business gets a pass.

But here is the real problem with the case — the dog groomer and the Institute for Justice claim that they brought this case in defense of art.  But it is not about art.  It is about the dislike of the regulation of business signs. The dog groomer maintains that this gigantic mural on her dog grooming business is not a sign or an advertisement.  She says it is a “gift to the community.”  And that “[she] put it there so that the people walking past would have something nice besides a huge brick wall to look at.”  Siouxsie doesn’t buy it.   This is nothing more than a high-concept advertisement.  Just because the mural doesn’t say the name of her business does not mean it is not an ad.

The Institute for Justice would like people to believe that this suit is supposed to be about preventing your government from playing “art critic.” The suit really seems to be about government’s regulation of commercial speech.

In any event, it sounds like the county tried to reach a reasonable compromise.  They proposed that the dog groomer paint the words “Welcome to Shirlington Park’s Community Canine Area.”  The dog groomer, however, sued instead.  She now has given her community the “gift” of an expensive lawsuit to be paid by the taxpayers.  [source]

Coincidentally, the same week this suit was filed, the Smithsonian ordered the removal of David Wojanowicz’s A Fire In My Belly” from the National Portrait Gallery.  Now, that is a case about the government playing art critic.  If the Institute for Justice cared about the rights of artists and art, then they would have filed suit over “A Fire In My Belly.  Instead they are fighting for a dog groomer’s right to paint a giant advertisement on the side of her building without any governmental interference.

This is a link to a list of everywhere “A Fire In My Belly” is being shown. If you really care about governmental interference with art, then go and check it out or just watch it on YouTube.

ADDED:  Or you can watch it here

Photo Credit:


~ by siouxsielaw on December 17, 2010.

4 Responses to “Dog Groomer Sues To Keep Gigantic Dog Mural on Her Building”

  1. Everytime I read about the Institute for Justice, I have to chuckle at their name. Their over-the-top rhetoric seems especially silly in this case. I think the remedy should be to allow anyone from the community to paint whatever they want on the wall. That would be a good gift to the community.

  2. Absolutely agree with you: This is an advertisement, nothing more. And, even if not, there are more reasons than just TPM to restrict this display of “art”.

    I actually followed up on your post this morning. Why not? It’s 4:00 a.m. here, and I’ve got nothing better to do. (Actually, I love a good zoning fight, and this was interesting!)

    • Glad you agree! I don’t get how anyone could argue it is not an advertisement/sign with a straight fact.

      4:00 a.m.? Zoning research for fun? Makes perfect sense.

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