Folk Art Vs. Code Enforcement: Atlanta Artist Heads To Court

Stephannie Stokes / WABE

In DeKalb County, this past week, a well-known artist found that folk art can be a code violation.

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Kyle Brooks, usually known as Black Cat Tips, has placed his art in prominent places, like the Atlanta Beltline, and also in more obscure ones, like atop telephone poles.

But when he moved to a 2 acre property in southeast DeKalb County last year, he decided to focus on his yard.

“So this was the first one I did,” Brooks said, pointing to an artwork propped up against the side of a barn at the back of his property.

“I made it out of some found material beside the street, and other pieces I had bought,” he said.

The cheerfulness of the work is pretty typical of his art.

“I struggle a lot inside all the time with myself, but then what I make usually comes out pleasant and happy,” Brooks said.

He turned all of the wooden pieces into a 10-foot-tall collage. The colorful structure has big smiling faces, and the words “Over, under. Above, below.”   

That didn’t matter, however, to a DeKalb code enforcement officer, when he visited Brooks. At the time, this piece and others stood in Brooks’s yard.

“He stood here and pointed at the different ones and said which ones were art and which ones were not art. Most of them he said were not,” Brooks said. “And I found that interesting.”

Instead, the officer said they were signs  signs that were too big for a residential property.

He left Brooks with a court summons. Frustrated, Brooks took the works of art down.

“I didn’t move out here try to be a crazy man, or a rebel. I wanted to be a good part of the community, maybe something happy along a stretch of road.”

Since the incident, a lot of people have said his art does that.

“Well some of it’s a little weird, but it mostly makes us smile,” said Dave Marcus, a neighbor who stopped by.

“Why are [county officials] wasting their time when there are other issues that the county should be addressing?” Marcus asked.

While Brooks’s property does face a busy road, it is surrounded on all sides by greenspace.

The county said someone did complain, though. And it’s making no judgment about the content of the signs. It’s only assessing their size.

But Brooks doesn’t even agree that his works are signs. He said, they’re art, even if they’re not in a place where people expect to see art.

“It’s a little interesting, because most everybody in some way enjoys some sort of art, but so many people seem to think it has to be in a building and you have to buy a ticket to go see it,” he said.

Brooks is scheduled to appear in court later this month