This guest post was submitted by Raheem Williams, policy director for the North Dakota Young Republicans.
North Dakota has developed an infamous reputation as one of America’s least desirable tourist location. The state has proposed a few solutions to draw in tourists – gimmicks such as the numerous redesigns of the official state logo and an expensive temple dedicated to a long-dead president. However, the folks running marketing at ND Tourism can rest assured knowing the city officials of Mandan want no part in the efforts to make visiting or living in the state of North Dakota more appealing.
Mandan currently serves as Bismarck’s unassuming suburb and current city leadership is content on keeping the area as bland as humanly possible. This bizarre allergy to being interesting or notable manifests itself in the oddest of ways. The city employs the Mandan Architectural Review Commission (MARC), an agency that allows local officials to play kingmaker and dream breaker on almost anything built or displayed in the city. In reality, it seems that MARC serves the purpose of exclusively trampling on private property rights and stomping out any glimmer of creativity. The Commission utilizes a set of draconian, little-known city codes and regulations to deny any attempts to breathe life into the city.
Mandan business owners Brian Berube and August Kersten discovered firsthand the dangers of being creative in Mandan. The two bar owners commissioned local artist Adrienne Phillips to paint a mural on the side of their bar. The law-abiding business owners even jumped through bureaucratic hoops of begging the crown for a permit. Unfortunately, this just wasn’t enough.
When asked by local media about the issue, Mayor Tim Helbling stated: “As a business owner, I really feel the city overregulates, but on the other side of it — the city side — I hear all the ins and outs and what it’s taken to bring people to the community.” This cringe-worthy comment is both tone-deaf and mind-blowing. In the alternate universe of the Mandan art police, stifling creativity and freedom is the best way to draw in business. This would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.
The residents of Mandan need to overthrow the mini-authoritarians of MARC. The codes and restrictions employed exist to empower the egos of local government officials at the expense of the people. The current suspension of public art permits should conclude with the abolishment of all art regulations and the appointment of an independent commission, consisting of term-limited city residents to replace MARC. The existence of cultural and art police is antithetical to freedom. It’s time to free the art and free the people, or get used to being irrelevant.