Defending Autumn in Bella Vista

Neighbors turned out in force at a Bella Vista Town Watch meeting last night to speak out about the likely loss of a mural at the corner of 9th and Bainbridge streets. The meeting was intended to focus on a small zoning variance, but turned into an emotional conversation about the fate Autumn (Your House in the Forest), a mural created by David Guinn 10 years ago as part of his Seasons series for Mural Arts.

Autumn overlooks a vacant lot at 631 S.9th Street, along Bainbridge, that has been used for years as off-street parking. Recently the lot was sold to two partners hoping to build a single-family townhouse. The development’s parking issues became a minor point, however, as it became clear that the mural was the major concern among neighbors.

More than 50 people attended the meeting at Palumbo Recreation Center, many of whom expressed their deep disappointment at the likely loss of Autumn. It didn’t help matters that many in the room also found the new townhouse’s out-of-context design as a poor tradeoff for the mural it will obscure. While it’s clear that the property owners are well within their rights to develop the lot, neighbors do not want to lose the mural.

The mural’s creator, David Guinn and Mural Arts staffers came to last night’s meeting to speak on the mural’s behalf. Beyond the neighborhood’s love for his work, Guinn’s murals have garnered international attention, and his Seasons series is part of the Mural Mile tour that draws tourists from around the world.

So what can be done?

The mural cannot be removed from the wall and reinstalled elsewhere because it is painted directly on stucco. One neighbor suggested that people purchase the lot outright, personally backing the idea with an offer of $25,000. They have eight days before the Zoning Board of Adjustment hearing to come up with cash, but the developer thinks it would be unlikely the neighbors would make him a compelling offer.

Perhaps the most viable option is painting a new version Autumn elsewhere in Bella Vista, (at no small expense or effort), which Guinn is willing to do. “Getting to do it again would be better than nothing,” he said while acknowledging that it wouldn’t be the same thing. Then there’s the matter of who will pay for it. Some neighbors felt that responsibility should fall to the developer.

Autumn has a deeply personal connection for the Zack family at 629 S. 9th, whose party wall is where the mural is painted. Elizabeth Zack spoke, on the edge of tears, summing up the feeling of many of her neighbors, “You have the right to do what you want, but I really love the mural…I know its irrelevant to the architecture and the bay windows, but I just want to say that David’s amazing, the mural’s incredible.” She was answered by applause from the audience.

Zack explained how she asked Guinn to paint the mural on the blank wall next to their house while he was painting Winter at 10th and Bainbridge. Guinn painted Autumn while Zack was pregnant with her second child, and he included her young daughter in the mural holding a bird, representing the baby on the way.

Guinn faces the potential of a real loss, and so do we. Neighbors rallied last night in support of Guinn’s contributions to Bella Vista, and he was clearly appreciative. But those feelings are bittersweet given the clear threats to Autumn. After the meeting, Guinn told me that Autumn is one of his favorite murals. The Seasons murals advanced his career, but he has a special connection to Autumn because of the bond he built with the neighborhood, and the Zack family on the other side of the wall.

Many Mural Arts projects beautify and enliven vacant lots, and can help spur investment in neighborhoods. But after they’re finished, these murals can take on lives of their own. Over the last 10 years, Bella Vista has grown more desirable for development, even as its residents have grown attached to this autumnal scene. Very few people likely foresaw the development conflict looming. Questions about Autumn’s future put a fine point on the ways public art can become part of a neighborhood’s social fabric, built by people’s everyday experiences, and just how delicate that fabric is.


Want more?

Take the City of Murals: Mural Mile Tour and you’ll see several works by David Guinn, but go now so you don’t miss Autumn in its original location.


Note: I live in Bella Vista, and I enjoy passing Autumn daily.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal