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How Hilliard is turning controversy into a cultural centerpiece

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Hilliard Sunflower

Kelley Daniel stands next to her sunflower mural, which sparked controversy in Hilliard for nearly a decade.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fourth in a four-part Solutions Journalism series on public art and its impact on a communityPart 1 ran on Oct. 29.  Part 2 published on Oct. 30. Part 3 published Oct. 31.

HILLIARD -- It started with a sunflower.

Painted on the side of a private garage in Old Hilliard and then walled off from public view, the mural of a sunflower has become a catalyst in helping the city grow into a town that hopes to blossom with culture. 

In 2009, Kelley Daniel, a Hilliard resident who tinkers with various art projects, decided to paint a sunflower on the side of her garage in the 5400 block of Madison Street.

"At the time there was no code or rule stating I couldn't paint a mural," the 60-year-old Daniel said. "We looked into it before we painted anything, and I felt like I was able to do it."

At least one neighbor disagreed. In 2010 the CBS TV station in Columbus, 10TV reported two complaints went to the city about breaking the historic district's guidelines. 

The complaints argued the mural was more than two colors. City planner John Talentino told Daniel her mural violated guidelines which say buildings in her neighborhood must look simple and subdued and have no more than two colors. She would be fined $150 a day until it was painted over or covered up.

Years of contention unfolded. Daniel found herself giving testimony at Hilliard City Council hearings. The commotion caught the ears of national news organizations. The town's mayor got involved, siding with his council.

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A cartoon depicting the mayor of Hilliard cutting the flower off of mural in a Hilliard neighborhood.

"I mean, it was everywhere," Daniel said, flipping through a scrapbook with headlines and news clippings pasted on several pages between letters sent to her family from the council. "It was even in USA Today saying a woman in Hilliard, Ohio gets scorned because she painted a mural."

Citizens became involved. Ironically, the city of Hilliard redesigned its logo and included a sunflower - the city's official flower.

Some, who supported the idea of art in the historic neighborhood, wrote letters to the council defending Daniel's concept. 

Over the following nine years, Daniel and other Ohio artists battled the city, she said.

Eventually, Daniel and her artistic friends created their own set of guidelines, with the city including a One Percent for Art in Hilliard (similar to how Toledo earns money for public art), which will give the volunteer Hilliard Public Arts Commission one percent of the public works projects' cost to go toward art projects.

There is a cap at $200,000 per eligible capital project for the arts commission, according to the city ordinance.

The anticipated mural spots in Hilliard will be at Powell prints (shirt printing), DiCarlos Pizza, and Otie's Tavern & Grill, said Daniel. She noted the Otie's mural will be on the back wall, which patrons from Center Street Market will see.

The Hilliard cultural and civic center (home of Hilliard Arts Council) is partnering with an art teacher from Hilliard who received a grant for students to paint a mural on the Hilliard Civic and Cultural Arts Center building.

"I feel that a lot of the people dead-set against it are gone," she said. "Now, we have a lot of support."

City council wrote an official code asking Daniel to come in and review it.

"There were members of the community who were interested in creating public art in this community," said David Ball, a spokesmen for the the city of Hillard. "The new arts commission serves as an advisory council to the city council. They manage the process, work as a liaison to the arts community."

The commission began three years ago, but is now starting to create projects. Daniel said she expects four new projects to be created in 2020 around the downtown area.

"We want public art to reflect the community," Ball said. "We can't just have someone throw paint at a wall and say, 'Here's some public art.' We want it to reflect the community and its standards."

The sunflower mural had a great impact on Hilliard, she said. People who would come to see the mural, often stopped at local businesses.

Hilliard logo

The City of Hilliard's new logo includes the sunflower that sparked controversy. 

"It's amazing that people would see that flower, and it gives me business," said David Waits, who moved his Japanese Automotive Service business from Clintonville to Hilliard 13 years ago. "People come to Old Hilliard and think, 'Oh wow, it's changing.'"

Waits said when people drove into town to see the mural, they would often park in his parking lot located at 4011 Wayne Street. When he had new customers, he'd ask them how they found him and they'd mention the mural.

"It's not just me," Waits said. "People come down to see the mural and go to restaurants. Any attraction will draw people in, and they'll come back."

One of the planned mural locations, facing Center Street Market, will allow outside diners to enjoy a mural by Curtis Goldstein as they eat. The location is also near an outdoor theater and splash park.

As the public arts projects move forward, Waits and Daniel agree that it's a sign of progress within the city.

"I like looking at it (the sunflower mural)," Waits said. "When they made her cover it up, I didn't understand that. Public art is part of a thriving area. I think it shows progress. There's a lot going on here, and the art helps brings people here to notice it."

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Staff Reporter

Noah Jones is host to The Open Mic Podcast -- available on Apple Podcasts! He is the crime, education and music reporter for Richland Source. He is a native of St. Louis, Missouri and a giant Cardinals fan.