In a kind of emoji graffiti, Dunwoody’s iconic “Everything Will Be OK” mural has its message temporarily altered with a paper heart taped over the “OK.”

Who altered the mural when at the Spruill Center for the Art’s Gallery at 4681 Ashford-Dunwoody Road is unclear. The gallery praised the alteration in a May 18 Instagram post and left the heart in place. “Felt the need to share the addition to the beloved #EverythingWillBeOK mural. We like! How about you?” reads the post.

“I’m not sure who made the alteration (it wasn’t Spruill), but am glad it’s temporary and I’m encouraged by the discussion about art that it has generated,” said Spruill Center CEO Alan Mothner in an email. He said he hopes it inspires people to participate in the city of Dunwoody’s public art survey, which runs through May 22. Last year, the mural was proposed as template for an official public art policy.

As for the fate of the heart addition, Mothner said, “I’m not sure right now, but I’m pretty certain it will come off eventually.”

Jason Scott Kofke, the artist who created the mural’s original design, said he did not do it himself and was unaware of it until the Reporter told him. He said he’s “ambivalent” about the alteration.

“This project is replete with twists,” Kofke said. “It would not be out of character for me to tag one of my own pieces. But I promise you, I’m not involved in this one.

“I’d have done something different. However, I know from my own experiences making public works, you only put yourself at risk in such ways if you believe in what you’re doing,” he added. “Someone felt compelled enough to risk painting a big red heart on this message and i would be remiss — as an artist who developed a career by writing big black letters in public spaces — to condemn this subversive action.”

He noted that the heart could have other interpretations due to the symbol’s ancient origins as possibly depicting a contraceptive plant or genitalia. “If I think of this message from the point of view of an ancient Roman, it has an entirely different meaning again,” he said.

The “Everything Will Be OK” mural altered with a paper heart as it appeared May 19 in a photo taken by resident Terry Nall.

The Spruill Center was one of two local nonprofits that recently found themselves in conflict with Kofke over a pandemic fundraiser’s use of the mural design. The Spruill Center partnered with Create Dunwoody in a successful effort to sell yard-sign versions of the mural as a fundraiser for out-of-work artists. However, Kofke soon raised copyright objections while marketing his own “Everything Will Be OK” products. An agreement was reached, but the local yard-sign sales are now over while Create Dunwoody distributes the funds.

Kofke created the mural at the Spruill Gallery in 2009. The version there now is a recreation put in place in 2011 by the gallery at popular request. For the city of Dunwoody, the mural’s phrase has become a quasi-official motto frequently used in promotional materials. Meanwhile, Kofke has used the phrase in many other artworks around the world, before and after the Dunwoody version.

The recent addition of the heart has drawn debate on social media. Resident Terry Nall, a former member of the City Council, said he heard about it through a Nextdoor post from someone who, thinking the alteration was permanent, called it an act of “unbelievable gall” by “jerks.”

Nall said he recently visited the mural and found the heart is made of red felt paper or a similar material and held in place by tape on the back. “Somebody went to some trouble to make and apply it,” he said.

Kofke said that part of the theme of his “Everything Will Be OK” artworks is putting them in public spaces and seeing how their interpretation and appearance change over time, so the mural alteration fits in that sense. “If I had to critique it, though, I think the message with a heart is more specific and thus left less to the valence and interpretation of the viewer,” he said. “My goal was not to tell a viewer how to feel, but to ask a viewer to become self-aware of how they feel.”

Meanwhile, Kofke’s website selling his version of the “Everything Will Be OK” artworks — with proceeds also marked for artists — now includes a way for people to make another form of artistic alteration: a graffiti stencil version of the phrase. And, he said, “I did have some ideas on a new sign I will run by Spruill. It will not involve hearts, though.”

Update: This story has been updated with comment from Jason Scott Kofke and the Spruill Center for the Arts.

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.