A few cans of paint and a fondness for retro British comedy has earned an Olathe resident the scrutiny of city hall.
When Bianca McCollough painted her garage door a month ago, she was ecstatic with the result.
Her finished project — the silhouette of a man high-stepping across a blue and gold background — is a tribute to Monty Python’s famous skit, “The Ministry of Silly Walks.”
The televised joke features actor John Cleese sauntering the streets of London with exaggerated movements.
McCollough calls her mural artwork.
Olathe called it graffiti.
Last month, a community enhancement officer sent McCollough a letter requesting that she remove or paint her garage door, claiming her mural was in violation of the city’s municipal code.
“The painting on the garage falls under the definition of graffiti,” the letter stated.
It continued that if McCollough didn’t fix the problem by a later inspection date, she could request a hearing.
The letter shocked and insulted the full-time graduate student, who takes pride in her artwork.
“The whole reason I moved into a neighborhood without a homeowners association is because I don’t want people telling me what color my house should be,” said McCollough, who lives near downtown Olathe. “But now I have the city trying to limit my freedom of expression, freedom of speech. Who are they to judge what is art and what is graffiti?”
Outraged, she sent letters and e-mails to various people at city hall, with photos of her painted garage, which is detached, further back from her house.
Her voice was heard.
McCollough soon received a phone call from a city official who said she did not have to remove the painting for the time being, since the city was reviewing her case.
“The Legal Department is in the process of reviewing the definition of ‘graffiti’ in our Municipal Code and our graffiti enforcement procedures in the context of other cities’ definitions and enforcement procedures as well as relevant case law,” Olathe spokeswoman Erin Vader told The Star. “We have very few graffiti cases arising from Community Enhancement, and even fewer arising from a property owner posting something on their own property.”
That was the reason the city requested voluntary compliance with the Municipal Code rather than immediately issue a citation, she said.
The city said it received a number of complaints about McCollough’s garage door mural, primarily from other property owners who were concerned about its impact on their property values.
McCollough, however, says she has received praise for her artwork, from both neighbors and strangers alike.
“I saw a 50-something couple drive by the other day, and while the male in the driver’s seat slowed, I saw the female, in the passenger's seat, smile ever-so-widely at my art,” she said. “And that is why I made it — for smiles and the enhancement of my property.”
She said that when she bought her home in 2011, the foreclosed property was in poor shape.
The single mom has spent the past four years cleaning up the house, landscaping, remodeling and painting the interior.
In addition to her Monty Python-themed garage, her creative flare can be found on her front door, which features the iconic blue time machine from the British television show “Doctor Who.”
McCollough is frustrated that after all the exhausting hours she spent beautifying her home, the city is questioning whether her artwork is devaluing her neighborhood. She doesn’t think it is fair she could potentially be penalized for making an artistic expression on her own property.
And the city mulling over whether her mural is “graffiti” is just the icing on the cake, she said.
For many people, “graffiti” is a term commonly used to describe defacement of public property, McCollough said.
Olathe’s Municipal Code states that graffiti “means any drawing, painting, writing, inscription, figure or mark, regardless of its content, of the type which is commonly known and referred to as ‘graffiti,’ which is written, drawn, painted, sprayed, scratched or otherwise placed or affixed, regardless of the nature of the material used, on any wall, window, rock, building or portion thereof, fence, gate, sign, other structure, tree or other real or personal property, either publicly or privately owned, and that is visible from any adjacent public or private property or public or private right of way.”
She finds her predicament ironic, considering Olathe’s art-friendly stance.
Living in a city that supports unique art, McCollough is confused why she is facing potential citation for displaying her own work.
“They’ve spent thousands of dollars installing art around the city,” she pointed out. “I don’t care for the pieces they’ve put up, but I don’t complain about it because its art. Someone labeled it as art and I respect it.”
McCollough isn’t the only one shocked by her battle with city hall.
Her next-door-neighbor, Angela Rincon, is baffled how the city could consider the Monty Python mural “graffiti.”
“The garage is fun to look at and I think it’s kind of cool,” she said. “It doesn’t bother or offend me at all.”
Rincon believes the city should spend its time focusing on more urgent matters.
“I think it’s a waste of their time to mess with it,” she said. “A lot of houses throughout the city are rundown and in very bad shape, with piles of junk and trash in their yard. I wish the city would do something about that instead.”
In even further protest of her treatment, McCollough has painted a portion of her fence with the Monty Python quote, “Bring me a shrubbery.”
She has also installed a small sign on her property encouraging residents to call or e-mail Mayor Michael Copeland if they value their first amendment rights and believe art is not a crime.
Vader, the city spokeswoman, said she is unsure how long the review on McCollough’s property will take.