Artist Jason Kofke conceived and installed his original Everything Will Be OK mural outside Dunwoody’s Spruill Center for the Arts in 2009, where it resonated as Georgia and the nation dealt with the Great Recession.
Kofke’s piece has gained renewed national attention now, in the midst of another economic downturn. On March 21, the nonprofit Create Dunwoody began selling $20 yard-sign prints of Everything Will Be OK as a rallying cry for locals and as a fundraiser for Atlanta artists. The impetus this time: the Covid-19 pandemic.
To apply for aid, metro artists are asked to complete this online application. There’s a cap of $500 per artist and each artist can receive funds only once. The first recipients were notified March 31, and the next application deadline is April 15.
The idea for the yard signs came from Spruill Center CEO Alan Mothner and fellow Create Dunwoody board member Heyward Wescott of Custom Signs Today printing. In the past two weeks, Create Dunwoody sold more than 2,000 signs, raising more than $40,000, and the venture continues to evolve quickly.
At first, Create Dunwoody representatives and volunteers hand-delivered signs to their neighbors. Now, with the statewide shelter-in-place order in effect, they’ve begun shipping signs nationally, with orders from Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina and Tennessee.
Mothner says he hopes the fundraiser’s momentum continues to emphasize that art and artists are essential, particularly in times of turmoil. “Art is considered by many cities a want and not a need,” he says. “But right now, this is exactly what the community needs.”
Still, there’s a caveat. Although the project was set up to support artists directly, Kofke — the original artist and a SCAD Atlanta professor — says he’s felt excluded from the enterprise. No one contacted him for permission to use, or input around, these “well-intentioned but frustrating” efforts to reproduce his work. That may be resolved this week at a conference involving Kofke and Spruill’s legal counsel.
“I don’t think anyone’s heart or intentions were in the wrong place,” Kofke says. “We all just had to learn some lessons on intellectual property and broaden an understanding of art, design and its place in the community. I suspect this is going to be a better outcome for all parties in the near future.”
The 41-year-old artist, who made Atlanta his home in 2007, has spent the past decade building an international body of work with the Everything Will Be OK piece. This has included installations in Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Portugal and Russia. Kofke says he planned to launch a fundraiser of his own this month, with an installation at Chicago’s Lytle House, with proceeds benefiting the nonprofit Care for Real.
Kofke credits Hope Cohn, who curated the Spruill Center’s Emerging Artists Exhibit in 2009 for helping the work come to fruition. Cohn is no longer with the Spruill Center.
This isn’t the first time he’s felt uncomfortable with his OK work being used without consent, although it is the first time he’s spoken up, he says.
Spruill used another artist to replicate the mural soon after Kofke’s original came down, Mothner says, adding that the words have become the “unofficial town motto.”
That misses the point, Kofke says. The specific location, timing and audience are essential components in this kind of discoverable art — from graffiti to murals to other designs meant to influence emotions, thoughts and ideas.
“Some people would say, ‘These are just four dumb words, why is this guy getting some money from this?,’” Kofke says. “But others will say, ‘No that’s his design. He should be compensated.’”