Cook: This isn't just about doughnuts

Cook: This isn't just about doughnuts

June 24th, 2014 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

Inside her Koch's Bakery, Barbara Davis has a petition with 500 signatures on it. The thing is 35 pages long.

"Maybe more," Davis said.

A change.org petition -- Fight Crime not Art! -- is pushing another 1,500 signatures.

That's 2,000 signatures obtained over the course of several days. Not to mention all the calls and emails to City Hall. Or free legal advice offered to Davis. All because of a doughnut mural. (It's a sign, says the city). Mural. (Sign.) Mural. (Sign.)

"Everywhere I go, everybody is talking about this thing," said Davis.

On Monday morning, Davis left Koch's to take her dog to the vet. The same thing happened there that's happened everywhere. Someone ran up -- this time, it was the vet -- thanking, encouraging and supporting her.

"You're helping all of us out," the vet says, who then -- as Davis tells it -- admits to wanting a dog mural on his clinic, but isn't allowed one by city inspectors.

Is that what this is all about? Not doughnuts, but small-business freedom? Common sense over legalistic interpretation? The power of engaged local artists?

"This isn't [just] about the doughnut mural," said Hollie Berry, the artist behind the petition who's also part of the McCallie Walls Mural Project. "It's more about the principle of the thing."

Here's the story so far: A creative energy has slammed into an outdated ordinance. Davis -- a small business heroine -- spent $11,000 of her own money to beautify this coyote-ugly shed wall facing 20th Street and Broad, hiring muralist Joseph Giri, who painted this intergalactic image of flying doughnuts. Great stuff, really.

A city inspector sees it, and tells Davis that the doughnuts constitute a commercial message and must be painted over. Cue social protest.

"Change the policy so that businesses can paint what they want, within reason," said Berry.

A while back, the good folks at Brewhaus on North Shore hired the exquisite Kevin Bate to paint a St. Pauli-esque German fraulein holding a mug of cold beer in each hand.

Nein, said the city. The beer was a commercial message. Paint over it.

(So if the St. Pauli girl had been holding frosty mugs of doughnuts, or if Davis had painted floating beer kegs outside her bakery, all would be fine. Confusing, but legally fine.)

"I believe if it was changed, we would put up the St. Pauli again," said Brewhaus' Mindy Vassion.

Let's go one better: after updating the ordinance, the city refunds the cost of the mural to Brewhaus, which then hires Bate all over again.

"That would be nice," said Vassion.

In Friday's column, I offered to readers: Purchase an extra Koch's doughnut, and I'll deliver them all to City Council tonight.

I called Davis at closing time on Monday to get a count.

"It looks like it's about 35," she said.

Oh. 35. Huh. Was hoping for a bit more, but that's a good start.

"35 dozen," she corrected.

Oh my. That's 420 doughnuts. Folks that usually buy one doughnut bought two. Others, an entire dozen. One man handed her $20. Another sent me $5 in the mail. And there's still all day today.

"Have you ever seen anything that comes out any bigger than this in Chattanooga?" Davis asked.

Lately? No.

And part of me is troubled by that. I wish we could get 2,000 signatures a week on some heavier, life-and-death issues.

But King once said that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, and he didn't exclude doughnut murals from that equation. So this democratic doughnut -- galvanized and glazed -- still capable of evoking all those sleeping giants: Petitions. People acting on behalf of other people. Communication with elected representatives. Direct action.

Ending the prison pipeline? Where to begin. Yet psychologically, the mural issue is something we can win. A realistic victory. As long as Ronaldo doesn't show up.

So City Council, enjoy those doughnuts. All 420 of them. (Hey, at least this wasn't a fertilizer store mural.)

Just remember, these aren't plain doughnuts. They're filled with really important stuff.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.