CHICAGO — Citing a rarely used law, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of an artist who sued the city of Indianapolis for bulldozing his sculpture to make way for urban renewal.
Using the 9-year-old Visual Artists' Rights Act, the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a U.S. District Court ruling that awarded artist Jan Martin $20,000 in damages and more than $130,000 in attorney fees.
Wednesday's ruling is said to be the first to award damages and other expenses to an artist under the federal law designed to protect an artist's work once it leaves the person's possession.
"Up to a point, artists have felt that they are secondary citizens when they are viewed by public bodies and the legal world," said Scott Hodes, Martin's attorney . "I think this sends a wonderfully strong signal that artists' rights deserve to be protected."
Martin took 2 1/2 years and spent $23,000 to create the 15-foot stainless steel sculpture titled Symphony 1, his lawsuit said. The piece was completed in 1987 and placed on a patch of grass next to a downtown canal.
When the city decided to bulldoze the sculpture to clear the land for development, officials failed to notify Martin, who read about it in the newspaper, the ruling said. The decision suggested that government entities can't destroy artwork without notifying the artist.
"Finally, and rather ironically, the sculpture will now live forever in the law books, protecting future artists from the same fate," Martin said Thursday.
Some art enthusiasts worry that the ruling could make cities and developers wary of displaying art on their property for fear of being sued.