Town in New Hampshire creates public art ordinance sparking debate over free speech

By Tara Nguyen

A New Hampshire town faces a dispute over the display of public artwork and murals, sparking debate on free speech. A year ago, a local bakery sued the town after the zoning board decided a local bakery’s sign was too large, a mural of baked goods done by high school students in the area. 

On Tuesday, the town passed an ordinance that presents requirements for public art. The zoning and planning boards now have to approve the theme, location, and design of any new large pieces of art on public or commercial property. 

“Typically, people get to decide whether to speak or not; they don’t have to ask the government ‘pretty please’ first.” Rober Frommer wrote last week in the Conway Daily Sun. 

Bakery owner Sean Young, sued town officials after they had told him that the painting could stay if the mural changed into mountains instead of pastries. Or the pastries would have been allowed if the building wasn’t a bakery. 

“There’s no part of writing that where we try to limit any kind of speech,” Planning Board Chairperson Benjamin Colbath said at a meeting on March 28. 

Young’s case to keep his sign, heads to trial in November as it was postponed while the town considered redefining how signs in a way that would allow Young to keep his up.