Two Dunwoody nonprofits have ended their sales of yard-sign versions of the local “Everything Will Be OK” mural, citing waning local demand for a campaign that briefly drew national attention for its fundraising for pandemic-affected artists.
The May 1 end of the sales came a little over two weeks after the Spruill Center for the Arts and Create Dunwoody reached an agreement with the original artist, Jason Scott Kofke, over copyright issues that had temporarily halted the program. Meanwhile, Kofke is continuing to run his own artist fundraiser website featuring “Everything Will Be OK” on yard signs and an expanded range of products, from posters to coffee mugs, as well as a new artwork with a less sunny slogan: “Nothing Lasts Forever.”
Exactly how much either program has raised and how much is going to artists remains unclear. Before the copyright dispute with Kofke, the Dunwoody groups said their sales had raised about $40,000. Create Dunwoody handled the funds and distribution; Spruill Center CEO Alan Mothner says his group never got revenue from it. Create Dunwoody President Lorna Sherwinter said May 6 that the local effort had approved 22 artists or art teachers for funding so far. The program offered grants of up to $500 to each applicant.
“Since we’ve long passed our peak in sales and the demand has diminished, Create Dunwoody decided to stop sign sales so that our volunteer board can put 100% of its time and energy into the allocation of funds,” she said in an email.
“Right now, we do not have any plans to continue sales,” she said.
Kofke, whose efforts uses the Atlanta arts nonprofit The Creatives Project as a fiscal agent, said he hopes the particular Dunwoody campaign can return even as he runs his own.
Kokfe said his site saw a slowdown in sign sales also. “I think those initial fears of the future are ebbing into our day-to-day life now. It might also be a little less press, or it’s just a natural lull,” he said. “…I think we’re all reviewing the best way to go forward and when they should launch the program again. Despite our disagreement, as I’ve gotten to learn about how they organized their funding program and how quickly they organized, I’m impressed. Even though my project got away from me a little bit, I’m am happy with what Create Dunwoody and Spruill did for their network of artists. I’m hoping we can continue to sell signs to continue to aid creative professionals through the system Spruill and Create Dunwoody set up.”
As for Kofke’s own site, he sees it a place to showcase his other artworks as well as an ongoing fundraiser platform. “To me, the message is the medium,” he said. “I don’t want it to be a flash in the pan during COVID and am posturing to keep it going even after COVID-19 is part of our history.”
And there’s an artistic twist as well. “I never wanted the signage to become product-based,” Kofke said of “Everything Will Be OK,” described its intent as a “hidden message” to be discovered by viewers. Now that he has adjusted to selling the phrase on products, he said, “…I’m hiding secret messages in the T-shirts and posters I’m printing by hand here in my apartment. Each one is a bit unique and each can carry a bit of the original mystery of the early days of ‘Everything Will Be OK,’ but through the channel of a commercial product.”
The yard-sale sign fundraiser began in March as an effort by Create Dunwoody and the Spruill Center, whose gallery is home to “Everything Will Be OK,” a recreation of a 2009 mural by Kofke. The mural is seen as an unofficial icon of the city. Starting as a Dunwoody effort, the sales quickly expanded to other local cities, then nationwide.
Kofke soon raised copyright objections, saying the Dunwoody mural is just part of an ongoing art project involving the phrase, including pandemic fundraisers he is involved with in such other cities as Chicago. He launched his own website, and the Dunwoody version went on hold while lawyers talked.
On April 16, both sides announced they had reached an agreement that allowed both fundraiser efforts to continue and leaves room for the Spruill Center to license the artwork for uses in other materials as well, according to Kofke and Mothner.
Update: This story has been updated with comment from Jason Scott Kofke and Alan Mothner.