Art News

Mountain Thrift Surrenders to Complaints from Disabled American Veterans Over Street Art

Maria Knowlton wanted to beautify the Mountain Thrift franchise she runs in Lakewood. But the national Disabled American Veterans organization, which owns the building, thought the street art presented an ugly image for veterans, and now wants her to cover the wall.

The mural was painted on July 4 by a roster of talented artists that includes NSpire, MPek, Michael Gallegos, Keith Jive, Wolve, Phero, Shewp, Zehb, Icr and more. Knowlton worked with Lakewood's Heritage, Culture & the Arts Division on the project — but not the DAV. "You know what?" Knowlton says. "It's not a war. I don't own the building. I overstepped my bounds in letting it happen....and some people just didn't like it."

Even if Knowlton did. "I loved the idea," she admits. "Obviously, you can see that it's a pretty old building. I think we really try to take care of it to the best of our ability, and the street art was one way of taking care of the wall that was in real need of repair. It was rough."
Ever since she took over the franchise in 2012 (she also has stores in Salt Lake City and Colorado Springs), Knowlton considered the peeling, beige wall on the exterior to be an eyesore. Because she loved street art, she quickly approved the request of local artists to use it as a canvas. "When they came to me, I was really excited," she remembers. "I thought, 'Okay, this is a great way to renovate a building without putting a lot into it. 'And the artists appreciate having the canvas to work on, and so I really thought it would be a cool thing. I thought it would integrate us into this neighborhood. I mean, I knew it was edgy."

Too edgy, according to some viewers. One complained that the wall made the store look like "a dispensary," and another, who thought it showed disrespect for veterans, complained to the national Disabled American Veterans organization. DAV representative Bernadette Line contacted Knowlton and told her the wall had to be painted over.

"The DAV is a pretty conservative group. I get that, I respect it," says Knowlton. "I, on the other hand, kind of fall somewhere in the middle. I have some conservative views for sure, but I also understand art and I love edgy. You can't be in this business and not love edgy. To me, it's a really tough place to be."

Particularly since her own husband is an American veteran with a disability.While the national DAV was reluctant to comment, Paul Jackson, head of the DAV's Colorado branch, explains: "We take care of our disabled American veterans who sacrifice everything for this country. It’s a very honorable thing to do. We represent sacrifice. We’ve got 1.4 million members scattered throughout these United States.... What we represent is not something on a building that people might perceive — in fact, just the opposite. Our national organization got a complaint from a citizen or disabled veteran that the building was painted like that. There are always two sides. A building that we own is our business."

And Knowlton accepted that. "We're going to be painting over it," she says. "I'm not sure of the date. There's really not a lot I can do about it. I'm sad, I loved it. I just thought it brought light to a building that needed it. I thought it was a really nice way to add color to the neighborhood, to improve on a building. I mean, you can see, it's pretty rough out there."

And she sums up the situation with this: "One man said to me, 'What if all the buildings out there looked like that?' Then I said, 'Well, the entire world would be filled with art, and what could be wrong with that?'"