Everything is not OK with a rapidly expanding campaign to raise money for pandemic-affected artists by selling yard-sign versions of Dunwoody’s iconic “Everything Will Be OK” mural. Jason Scott Kofke, the artist who created the mural, has objected to the use of his design and says he is lending it out himself right now for pandemic-coping causes elsewhere, including a Dunwoody-inspired yard-sign campaign in Chicago.
Now sales of the local yard signs are on hold — listed as “sold out” — pending an April 7 meeting between Kofke and the Spruill Center for the Arts and CREATE Dunwoody, the nonprofits that organized the fundraiser along with Custom Signs Today.
“I will be working with the team at Spruill Art Center to resolve the issue with intellectual property,” said Kofke in an email. “We are all hopeful that we will come to an amicable resolution next week.”
“We at Spruill respect the rights of all artists,” said Spruill Center CEO Alan Mothner in an email. “We believe this to be a misunderstanding. We are working diligently with Jason and his team to clarify this misunderstanding.”
Neither Kofke nor Mothner would clarify the specific issue involved pending the conversations.
The yard-sign campaign had raised $40,000 for artists and art teachers who lost income due to the pandemic shutdowns, with individual grants of $500 each available. Originally available only in Dunwoody’s main ZIP code, it quickly became available nationwide and was ordered by people in several other states, according to CREATE Dunwoody.
The yard sign’s design — the phrase “Everything Will Be OK” in rustic black letters on a white or grayish background — duplicates the mural that Kofke installed in 2009 at the Spruill Center’s gallery at 4681 Ashford-Dunwoody Road, and which was later recreated by the gallery in 2011 as a permanent fixture.
For the city of Dunwoody, which incorporated in 2008, the mural became an unofficial slogan increasingly moving toward official status, used prominently in promotional materials by the city’s convention and vistors bureau, which calls it “the message that sets Dunwoody apart.”
Last year, the city considered and rejected a controversial proposal to establish a public-art policy using “Everything Will Be OK” as the standard, essentially allowing only murals that imitated its black-and-white color and slogan format of “uplifting” messages. Some city officials at the time praised the mural’s style and content as conservative and positive, and contrasted it with graffiti art or political art elsewhere.
In fact, “Everything Will Be OK” is not a Dunwoody-centered artwork and is part of an ongoing project that Kofke began as graffiti-style street art with a sometimes radical intent.
For about 14 years, Kofke has posted versions of the “Everything Will Be OK” artwork — in scale from stickers to graffiti tags to murals to fake lost-dog flyers — around the U.S. and in several other countries. “And I should represent this project as it is my design,” he said.
Kofke, who is based in Atlanta, began working on the project in 2006 as a master’s degree program student at the Savannah College of Art and Design. “For my graduate thesis, I decided to study how people react to drastic changes or catastrophic events,” he said, and messages that could contrast with those “inevitable” situations. In 2006-2007, he began placing versions of the work in public.
“For example, any time I found an abandoned, sun-bleached sign in Savannah or Atlanta, I’d measure the sign, have vinyl lettering cut to size, and install [the ‘Everything Will Be OK’ message] on the sign (taking over already existing yet abandoned infrastructure and confusing channels of authority and messages),” he said.
Such temporary versions still interest Kofke, he said, including yard signs. Indirectly expressed concerns about the local fundraiser versions, he said he is looking for biodegradable yard signs.
“I’m worried that a few years now, a bunch of sun-bleached ‘Everything Will Be OK’ plastic squares will be sitting in people’s closets or floating in the Pacific Ocean,” he said.
In 2009, the same year he exhibited the mural version at the Spruill Center, Kofke used the artwork in what he calls the “Homeless Project” in Atlanta, using a $500 grant he obtained the previous year.
“I spent the entire grant on warm clothing,” said Kofke. “I then used SCAD’s printmaking studio to print ‘Everything Will Be OK’ on the garments and I filled the pockets of the jackets with stickers that said ‘Everything Will Be OK.’”
He gave the clothing to people he met who were panhandling that winter in Atlanta and told them they were free to sell the stickers.
“My goal was to cause auto-based commuters in Atlanta to become confronted with a challenging juxtaposition: On their ride to the office, a commuter was to encounter a person in need promoting the phrase ‘Everything Will Be OK,’” said Kofke. “This was designed to cause a cognitive dissonance that, I hoped, would result in the commuter having to adjust perception and not see the panhandler as a part of the environment on their way to work, but as a fellow person.”
Likewise, the original Spruill Gallery installation was shown in the context of the global financial crisis of the time, Kofke said.
During the current pandemic, Kofke is working with other arts organizations and city councils on other fundraisers. In Chicago, he worked with a public art program from an event space called Lytle House to reproduce an “Everything Will Be OK” mural on a wall and to sell yard-sign versions of the artwork, with all of the proceeds going to a nonprofit called Care For Real, which provides food, clothing and other support to those in need.
Michelle Lytle of Lytle House said she and her wife were inspired by the Dunwoody campaign. “We wanted to put something up that in one way or another communicated, ‘Hey, this is going to be OK. This is going to pass. We will all get through this,’” said Lytle. “I started looking around online to see if I could get inspired and that’s when I saw Jason’s ‘Everything Will Be OK’ mural outside of the [Spruill] art gallery.”
“The success of the movement in Atlanta showed that this could be a great opportunity to help …. all of our friends, family and neighbors who were now having trouble putting food on the table,” she said. “On top of that, it was a great opportunity to spread this message of hope to another part of the country outside of Atlanta.”