For nine years, cats and dogs loomed large over a parking lot on Avenue A as part of an iconic Advocates for Animals mural on the side of a tenement building in Manhattan's East Village. Created by well-known local muralist Chico, the mural tugged at the heartstrings with an assortment of animals - including a sweet kitty with pleading eyes and a trusty German Shepherd - urging local residents to spay and neuter their pets, and providing a number to call for assistance.
But the mural, which can be seen in the opening moments of the 2005 film Winter Passing, was whitewashed this fall and replaced with an ad for 2K Sports' NBA 2K10 basketball video game, and now NBA superstar Kobe Bryant looms large on the wall.
The East Village blogger EV Grieve chronicled the sudden destruction of the Advocates for Animals mural and the NBA 2K10 ad takeover. "Most of the commenters were upset that Chico's mural had given way to an ad," Grieve says, noting that when he first caught glimpse of workers painting over the mural on a Saturday morning, "I gasped and said a four-letter word to no one in particular."
For her part, Irene Muschel, a social worker and animal activist who runs Advocates for Animals, and hired Chico to paint the mural back in April 2000, didn't even know it had been covered up until MEDIA contacted her.
Muschel claimed that the landlord of 189 Avenue A, Desides Weinberg, was contractually obligated - "We had a legal contract drawn up by an attorney and signed by me, Chico and the landlord" - to keep the Animals for Advocates mural up for 10 years. If that's the case, the mural should have stayed in place until April 2010. "About a year ago, the landlord that signed the contract called me about how he needed income, and he said there was an advertiser who wanted to put something up there, and would I go along with it," Muschel recalls. "I said no, actually, and I had contacted a lawyer. But then it just faded away."
For his part, Weinberg repeatedly insisted that the contract Muschel speaks of was a "phony contract." He also faulted Muschel for not properly maintaining the mural, pointing out that chunks of it had fallen off the side of the building over the years.
One has to wonder: Did New York-based KD&E Advertising, which did the media buy for the NBA 2K10 campaign, realize the ad would replace a mural that had special meaning to East Village residents? KD&E did not return calls or respond to efforts made to reach someone at the agency on MEDIA's behalf by a representative for 72andsunny, the creative agency on the campaign.
EV Grieve stresses that advertisers need to be sensitive to their surroundings. "I do think that advertisers have a responsibility to be aware of what they might be covering up when they place these kinds of advertisements around the city ... There needs to be some sensitivity to the past and present."
Muschel says she is not going to pursue the matter legally or otherwise, instead choosing to focus on the good the mural did. "The mural helped a great many animals get spayed and neutered and provided answers on a wide variety of animal issues to people who called," she muses. "It did its work." Given the anger locally, it might not work quite as well for Kobe and co.