Last week, in New York a federal judge, Frederic Block, may have established legal precedent. Jerry Wolkoff, a New York developer, owns the building known as 5Pointz in Long Island City, Queens, that was covered in Graffiti for twenty years. A year ago, he whitewashed the graffiti, eventually razing the building to begin development. Instead he was fined $6.7 million for painting over the works of 21 graffiti artists. Even though Mr. Wolkoff owned the building, a jury found that under the Visual Arts Rights Act, the art was protected. VARA is a statute that protects artwork of “recognized stature.” As part of a non-profit spearheading an Historic Restoration redevelopment in the heartland, we legally had to remove graffiti on an unoccupied building within a specific time as it was considered vandalism “and needed to be stopped in its tracks.” Bless his cotton socks, Wolkoff “exhibited” the artists’ work for 20 years, and today the artists have studios. After this verdict, no developer will allow that to happen again.
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