Good timing kept a vandal from permanently damaging the American flag mural on the side of La Bella’s Pizza Bistro in New Paltz, and video footage of the culprit may well bring the individual responsible to justice.
The incident took place the morning of Election Day, according to La Bella’s owner Maria Lisante. She had just voted and was intending to meet her brother for breakfast when she saw two large splatters of red paint dripping from the image of the stars and stripes. “I saw that it was defaced slightly, but it was still wet,” she recalled. “It wasn’t horrible.”
Lisante got to work cleaning up the latex paint, which had been lobbed in balloons. Before long, several local residents had gathered to help her out. Some had seen posts about the vandalism via social media, while others were simply driving by.
The idea of hiring a local artist to paint a mural on the wall arose after several dozen buildings were tagged in a graffiti rampage last year. That individual was apprehended and will face a hearing on restitution on December 11 at 7 p.m. in the town court. (Other property owners whose buildings were tagged are encouraged to call John Rusk, the prosecutor, at 331-4100 prior to that date.)
Lisante eventually decided an American flag motif was suitable for the outside wall of her building, but when a crowdfunding campaign was launched, a handful of members of the New Paltz Facebook group stridently objected, as the flag is often linked — by supporters and detractors alike —with military service and, consequently, military actions taken in the name of the United States currently and throughout history. Case in point: during the interview, Lisante was called to the phone as an individual from Texas wished to purchase a gift certificate to the pizzeria and then give it to a military veteran.
A statement written by the artist of the mural casts the flag in a different light. It reads in part that the mural “reminds us of the timelessness and inclusivity of our national flag, which has remained through centuries of sometimes turbulent history and different political climates and is a symbol that is owned by all Americans.” New Paltz Town Board member Dan Torres has observed that the flag is placed in an entirely civilian context during naturalization ceremonies, for example.
Lisante, who maintains that she was not expecting the mural to place her in the center of a story which has occasionally reached national audiences, promised that anyone caught vandalizing the wall would be prosecuted. However, she is also striving to keep the focus positive, emphasizing the ideals which motivated her to select the flag as the subject rather than the political environment which has turned the discourse toxic.”
In response to the vocal opposition to the mural, resident Joey Garcia organized a “flag appreciation walk” last month, which attracted the online attention of political extremists from both sides of the political spectrum and resulted in a massive police presence but no arrests or reported violence. The painting, as well as the walk, appeared to be standing in as proxies in a nation more and more divided by political differences.
“People don’t want to talk to each other,” remarked the artist, who has declined to disclose her name before the mural is complete. On the other hand, she said of passersby, including the many children who walk under her scaffold after school, “People are really nice.”
Nevertheless, this week the mural is expected to be sealed with a graffiti-resistant coating, which will allow any further decoration to be wiped off with a damp cloth.