A family in Mount Dora, Florida, decided to give their house a new paint job last year. But instead of opting for an unassuming white or beige exterior, they decorated their entire home with stars and swirling clouds. The mural is meant to resemble Vincent van Gogh’s famous 1889 painting The Starry Night. Some people loved it, considering it public artwork, but city officials declared it an eyesore.
Nancy Nemhauser (nem-HOW-ser) and her husband, Lubomir Jastrzebski (LOO-boh-mihr JAS-tr-ZEB-skee), commissioned an artist to paint their house for their son, who has autism. This condition affects the development of language and social skills. Their son became fascinated with Van Gogh’s masterpiece after he saw it in a book. The couple thought the mural could also serve as a landmark if their son were to ever have trouble finding his way home.
The house quickly attracted attention. People stopped to stare and take pictures. Officials said the mural violated local codes regarding signage and that the house was a distraction. The city officials ordered the family to repaint their home, but they refused, believing that removing the mural would upset their son. As a result, the city fined the family more than $10,000.
Nemhauser and Jastrzebski took their case to a federal court, saying that the city’s restrictions violated their freedom of expression (a person’s right to articulate their opinions and ideas). A judge agreed, and the city settled with the family by issuing a public apology, rescinding their fines, and paying $15,000 in damages. Additionally, the mayor of Mount Dora invited Nemhauser to join a new advisory board created to review future city ordinances.