Artist shocked as a Rochester Lowertown mural comes down without notice

·3 min read

May 25—ROCHESTER — A recognizable mural in Rochester's Lowertown neighborhood was taken down this week in a move that shocked the artist.

It took Maggie Panetta about six weeks, 20 gallons of paint; one lift rental; a grant of $4,000 and dozens of spider web clearings to paint

"Night at the Movies" on the side of the former Gray Duck movie theater,

now Pop's Art Theater, in 2020.

"It was one of the hardest installations I've ever had to do," she said.

In less than a day, the two-story mural, painted on vinyl siding, was gone.

Black paint on some of the mural had caused the vinyl to warp in the sun which then allowed moisture to seep into material the siding, said Bucky Beeman, building owner.

The siding was replaced this week.

Panetta said she understands, but wasn't given notice when her work was taken down. Instead, she found the broken siding in a pile behind the building Wednesday.

"There was no way to salvage it. It was cracked, broke, and pretty much shredded," she said.

A heads up would have been courteous, she said.

It's also a federal law.

The complicated intersection of private property rights, creative rights and public is outlined under the

Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990.

The law has been applied to compensate artists whose work was destroyed even if the work was destroyed by the property owner. Among other things, the federal statute outlines that artists or art owners should be notified if public art on private or public property is going to be destroyed, moved or altered.

Beeman said Panetta had notice of the building work.

In a unique turn of events, Panetta and her husband, Nathaniel Nelson, took over leasing the building in February to operate their indie movie theater, Pop's Art Theater.

Beeman said the wall in question was part of a list of planned building improvements outlined in the lease.

Panetta said removing the mural entirely wasn't specified and that she and Nelson were given no notice when that work was to begin.

"One of the things I'm taking away from this is that there's a serious lack of knowledge about public art among landlords," Panetta said.

Panetta pieced together a portion of the art that included an astronaut. She pulled them from among the other broken strips lying on the ground next to the building. An incomplete section of dark gray new vinyl covered most of the west facing wall. The only color that remained was the back door to the theater, which has purple yellow and blue depiction of Prince's guitar.

Panetta said one of Beeman's partners suggested Panetta simply paint another one. It's not that simple, she said.

Her to-do list was considerably shorter in 2020 during the COVID pandemic than it is now while she and her husband operate multiple businesses. The $4,000 in COVID stimulus grant funding dispersed through RNeighbors barely covered materials and a lift rental.

"I would've bidded a project that big and involved at $15,000 to $20,000," she said.

She and her husband's love for movies and their desire to support local business led Panetta to complete the ambitious artwork in November 2020 using the grant.

Panetta said she has heard from people who helped her paint the mural express their condolences.

Despite mourning the loss of the work, Panetta said she's looking forward to planned improvements to the building.

"Our hope is to find some other way to make this building pop in the neighborhood," she said.

Beeman said plans include facade improvements including a lighted marquee and finding suitable building material to add art and color to the building.