That, however, does not concern the city. Ostensibly in order to encourage more public art, last year Denver adopted a new zoning ordinance that addresses the issue of murals. If no more than 5 percent of the piece is occupied by a corporate logo (say, the word "Nuggets" on Mutombo's much, much bigger uniform), then the piece is "artistic in nature," according to zoning director Dorothy Nepa. "And we've been told by the courts that we can't limit noncommercial messages." Not even jumbo, redundantly sporty ones. Nepa's office passed Stemple's proposal along to the Mayor's Office of Art, Culture and Film, which concurred that the painting qualified as art rather than an advertisement--but the commission's Greg Esser is quick to point out that "we don't have any aesthetic input."

A little more Mutombo appears every day. A group of Highlands neighbors--who have the dubious pleasure of facing the piece--are meeting this week, "very much concerned about the painting," says one member. And Nepa, who's received several complaints at her office, wouldn't be surprised if opponents appeal the project. But "it's a sports city," she points out. "We have three sports teams."

As though we need to be reminded of that.
In the meantime, Stemple paints on. "I'm just a kid who has a talent and decided to go out and make a difference, a difference to help kids," he says. He lost about a third of his memory in that fateful car accident, he adds, but curiously still recalls his inspirational junior high art teacher, who "never let anyone else criticize your artwork."

It's a brand-new ball game now.

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