Painted-Over Mural Angers Freehold Borough’s Art Community
Members of Freehold Borough’s art community feel disrespected after the owner of a building they were doing a mural for painted over the paintings without any effort to preserve the work.
Neal Girandola, president of the Freehold Borough’s Art Council is fuming because he says Rakesh Kumar, the owner of the building on 63 East Main Street in Downtown Freehold, agreed to let the FBAC contract a mural painter and work with the community to design artwork on his long abandoned building while he sought permission from the Borough Planning Board to construct a 7-11 or open gas station. Only to have the artwork painted over without any notice given to the Art Council.
Girandola says that the project came about in response complaints from residents that the structure, which sits at one of the entrances to the downtown area, was an eyesore. The property was unused for almost a decade, seven years of which it belonged to Mr. Kumar. An essay contest was held to choose the theme of the mural which would be done by a professional along with 50 Freehold Borough High School Art students.
“The community was up in arms over the look of the building. It was old, it had been boarded for ten years and the boards were old and hanging there. I proposed an idea to the arts council that we use this opportunity to make this a mural and at least to fix it up. We reached out to Mr. Kumar and he agreed, and said that would be nice. “
The project was 160 feet long and 18 feet wide and cost 15,000 dollars to complete according to Girandola.
Kumar had already submitted an application to the planning board for the 7-11 however the board rejected the project on December 14th. The decision was changed to a tie vote on December 28th after Kumar’s attorney told him his client would address safety concerns. A vote on January 25th will either reject Kumar’s proposal or consider the safety suggestions. Kumar has also obtained a permit to operate a gas station.
Girandola says the FBAC had an agreement with Mr. Kumar that if 7-11 was approved and the building needed to be torn down, they would be able to remove the artwork (which was done on removable paneling) prior to demolition. If Mr. Kumar had decided to proceed with opening a gas station (something which Girandola says wasn’t brought up) the artwork would still remain.
“The intent was to preserve the artwork if the building was not to come down, so the artwork would stay and it would become the coolest gas station in all of western Monmouth County. So that was the agreement. “
However Girandola claims that if Mr. Kumar didn’t want the work on the building for any reason, all he had to do was give the FBAC notice.
“If anything was to happen to the building or any use to the building were to happen we were supposed to be, it was agreed upon, provided thirty days to do something else with the artwork. “
What Girandola claims happened is Kumar arranged for a meeting on January 7th at 10 in the morning at the site to talk about preservation scenarios. On the morning of the 6th, Girandola says Kumar’s team showed up and painted over parts of the mural with gray paint.
Girandola says in a conversation between himself, Mr. Kumar, and Mr. Kumar’s lawyer, the building’s owner expressed no remorse over the incident.
“I had asked him why he had painted over the mural and he said it’s his business he’ll do what he wants and I said we had an agreement and he said he didn’t care about an agreement.”
Asked whether the FBAC will be seeking any kind of legal action on the matter, Girandola stated that “we’ve decided to reserve our decision on legal action until after the planning board vote on January 25th.”
Regardless of the legality of the issue, Girandola Is surprised that someone who wants to join the community by opening a business would do something to alienate themselves through their actions.
“I’m very surprised that any businessman in this position would assault an arts council in this regard when it’s so heavily in the public eye. “
Calls to Mr. Kumar's attorney for comment were not returned.