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No more Nina
HSMC vote brings down Panhandle Slim painting
A 12’x8’-foot portrait of vocalist and activist Nina Simone found a temporary home in Forsyth Park over the weekend, though plans for its future remain uncertain.

FOR A painting bearing the likeness of Nina Simone, there will be no more Sundays or any other days in Savannah’s historic district, at least not for now.

At the Thursday, Aug. 3 meeting of the Savannah-Chatham Historic Site and Monument Commission, a petition requesting after-the-fact approval of the artwork under the city’s mural policy ended in a 3-3 tie.

Because the petition did not receive a majority of votes, it was therefore denied. The mural was removed from the side of the petitioner Paul Suszynski ’s private residence at Habersham and Hall streets the next morning.

The piece also required approval from the Historic District Board of Review, which it received in July by a 4-3 vote. The staff of the Metropolitan Planning Commission had recommended approval of Suszynski’s petition for the HSMC, but the “asking for forgiveness instead of permission” nature of the request did not sit well with some of the commission members.

“It is our responsibility ... to follow the rules. Even when we amend the rules to make it easier and they still aren’t followed, I think it makes it even more incumbent on us to go up or down on this matter,” said HSMC Chair Eli Karatassos during the discussion.

Part of the grassroots public art project Walls of Hope, the inspirational vocalist and activist was painted by artist Scott Stanton, who goes by the name Panhandle Slim. When the project began in 2015, organizers said they were unaware of the ordinance that regulates public art in the City, and the HSMC has approved several of the murals after the fact.

Because Stanton and Walls of Hope organizers had come before the commission before, some HSMC members argued that they could not profess to be ignorant of the mural policy process, which requires advance submission and approval. It was confirmed during the meeting that paintings have continued to appear around the city without approval by MPC staff.

“When something is done outside the direction of the board, whether they meet standards or not, they are not to be recommended for approval until something is done to remediate the problem we have with this group,” argued Karatassos.

“They go willy-nilly around town putting up whatever they want, wherever they want it.”

The board seemed to agree that it wanted more murals and public art in Savannah, but opinions were split on how strictly the mural ordinance should be enforced in the case of Nina Simone.

Karatassos voted to deny staff’s recommendation for after-the-fact approval of the petition, along with members Thomas Gensheimer and Dolores Engle.

HSMC members Alicia Blakely, Kristopher Monroe and Dr. Nicolas Henry voted to approve the request.

Though given a “reasonable amount of time,” Stanton chose to take down the 12’x8’-foot painting the next morning. (He maintains that it is not technically a mural since it is removable and not painted directly on the wall.)

“I’m reclaiming my sign,” joked Stanton, a play on another of his recent works for Walls of Hope, a portrait of Rep. Maxine Waters’ featuring her now-famous “reclaiming my time” quote.

He says he’s already had multiple offers from local organizations to host Nina, and the painting appeared on the Forsyth Park stage last weekend during the LB4 & After Foundation’s Celebration of Life Festival.

In the meantime, Suszynski hasn’t given up having her back on the side of his house. Contacted on Monday morning, he said he plans to submit a new petition per the rules of the HSMC’s mural policy by the end of the week.

“They said they would approve it if we went through the proper channels,” says Suszynski.

“We’ll see what happens.”