An Atlanta-based artist has sent a cease-and-desist letter to a Dunwoody arts center after the nonprofit began selling replicas of his work as yard signs during the coronavirus pandemic.
The iconic “Everything Will Be OK” signs have garnered national attention since the Spruill Center for the Arts began selling them to area residents for $25 each with proceeds going to artists struggling financially during the outbreak. But Jason Kofke, who created the original mural outside the Spruill Gallery in 2009, said he hasn’t received proper recognition for his work and he was not involved in the campaign to sell the yard signs.
Kofke recently hired a lawyer and sent the arts center a cease-and-desist letter to stop them from selling more copies of the mural in their current form, he said.
The Spruill Gallery said it is working to resolve the "misunderstanding," days after announcing it was expanding sales nationwide. The campaign, which began several weeks ago, has raised more than $40,000 for local artists who have been hurt financially by the pandemic, and has been featured on CNN and "Good Morning America."
Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC
Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC
“I love that it means something to the community of Dunwoody,” Kofke said in an interview Friday. “It puts me in a weird position as the artist.”
Kofke, who studied at the Savannah College of Art and Design and now lives in Atlanta, has been showcasing the "Everything Will Be OK" public art project for more than a decade, posting the message around the United States and abroad, including China, Japan and Russia.
“I have worked really hard for this project, so it is disappointing to see that the only time in all of the world travels that I’ve lost control of it is right here at home,” Kofke said.
He posted the original mural on the side of an old smokehouse on the Spruill grounds in 2009 as part of the gallery’s “Emerging Artists” exhibit. It quickly became a symbol of hope and positivity for the Dunwoody community.
Located at the corner of Ashford Dunwoody Road and Meadow Lane, the original sign was taken down at one point, but "an outcry from the public called for the sign's permanent return," the Spruill Gallery said on its website. The current display is a replica, but "its message has not faltered and nor has the response," the nonprofit said.
Kofke, 41, said he did not know the replica was put up until about a year later. He carefully crafted the message, font and design for years. The original sign is more complex than it may appear, he said, adding that the smaller reproductions dilute his brand.
“It confuses and muddies the water of that one particular image,” he said. “It’s not so easy to replicate, and that’s not on accident.”
Kofke said he was not involved in the execution of the fundraiser, but he has talked with leaders at the arts center about the issue and hopes to come to an agreement to be more involved moving forward. Kofke has begun selling his own "Everything Will Be OK" merchandise on his website, with profits going to artists affected by the virus.
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Spruill Gallery CEO Alan Mothner said in a statement Friday that “we at Spruill respect the rights of all artists. We believe this to be a misunderstanding. We are working diligently with Jason and his team to clarify this misunderstanding.” Mothner was not available for further comment.
Kofke, who teaches design part-time at The New School in Atlanta, is still struggling with whether he should be compensated for the yard sign sales. He agrees with the mission of supporting local artists, but said he has been hit financially by the coronavirus too.
“I learned a lot about intellectual property on this,” he said.
In partnership with the arts organization Create Dunwoody, the Spruill Gallery is now shipping the signs anywhere in the U.S.
“In the first few hours since launching to an expanded area, we’ve received orders from Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina, Michigan and Arizona,” Create Dunwoody President Lorna Sherwinter said in a statement Wednesday. “We hope this message brings comfort to communities throughout the country and helps remind people that everything will be OK.”
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Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution