An artist and two local nonprofits have settled their copyright dispute over the use of Dunwoody’s iconic “Everything Will Be OK” artwork in a nationwide fundraising campaign based on selling yard-sign versions. Now each side will continue separate yard-sign sales, both raising money for pandemic-affected artists.

Meanwhile, CREATE Dunwoody, one of the local nonprofits, said it already began distributing some of the $40,000 it had already raised from the signs to local artists or art teachers.

Samples of the “Everything Will Be OK” yard signs from the CREATE Dunwoody website.

“The world is hurting right now,” said CREATE Dunwoody president Lorna Sherwinter in an email. “But Dunwoody citizens have worked tirelessly to help those who are suffering and spread a universal message of hope. CREATE Dunwoody is so proud to be a part of a community that rallies in times of crisis and we are happy that our campaign has uplifted people throughout the world during this incredibly uncertain and tumultuous time.”

The yard-sale sign fundraiser began in  March as an effort by CREATE Dunwoody and the Spruill Center for the Arts, whose gallery is home to “Everything Will Be OK,” a recreation of a 2009 mural by Atlanta artist Jason Scott Kofke. The mural is seen as an unofficial icon of the city and the campaign was so popular it quickly spread to nationwide sales.

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 artist-supporting fundraiser website offering yard signs as well as other items bearing the artwork. And the Dunwoody version went on hold while lawyers talked.

The iconic “Everything Will Be OK” mural at the Spruill Gallery. (Special)

On April 16, both sides announced they had reached an agreement that allows 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 Alan Mothner, the art center’s CEO. The Spruill Center also had filed to trademark the local version of the artwork a couple of years ago, Mothner said, but Kofke will now take over that right.

“Going forward, as it has always been Jason’s original work, we will have a non-exclusive joint usage agreement,” said Mothner in an email.

“I will be properly acknowledged for the project moving forward,” said Kofke in an email. “Throughout its history, ‘EWBOK’ [his acronym for the artwork] has gained popularity during times of hardship. As it regains momentum during COVID-19, I’m working to continue to maintain its visual integrity across communities and across platforms.”

“The Spruill Center for the Arts has supported artists and the creation of art in the community for more than 45 years,” Mothner said in a separate written statement about the agreement. “We are humbled by the outpouring of support for Jason’s message in this time of need and thrilled to be able to continue to show the power of art to bring us all together.”

“During times of uncertainty, ‘Everything Will Be OK’ reminds us that unexpected change is a part of life,” said Kofke in a written statement. “The products we create during times of change affect how the change is endured. This project began as a sign that has a different meaning to everyone. As the message spreads our hope is that it causes each viewer to momentarily consider what is most important in her life.”

The agreement also means that the “Everything Will Be OK” design will be the same in both sign campaigns, according to Mothner and Kofke. Initially, they were slightly different, which Kofke says is because the Spruill Center slightly altered the look of his original artwork in its recreation.

“A big part of the resolution is that we have a uniform design,” said Kofke. The initial variation “means all those slightly different designs are both unique to the Dunwoody neighborhood and now perhaps ‘collectors items,'” he said. Some fine print on the signs may differ depending on which fundraiser they are for.

Also uniform is the pricing of the signs at $25. That was the price of the Spruill Center/CREATE Dunwoody version when it took the fundraising national, while Kofke was initially selling his for $24.

Dual fundraisers

While both yard-sign fundraisers are continuing, they are different in their content and their stages of development, with the local version already funding artists and Kofke’s version still in the planning of management and qualification.

The Spruill Center/CREATE Dunwoody campaign is available at createdunwoody.org. Artists and art teachers — who are vetted by CREATE Dunwoody’s board through a confidential process — are eligible for grants up to $500. Sherwinter said that so far, the campaign has given $4,240 to nine artists “across the cultural spectrum — from artists and instructors to musicians and actors.

“Hearing their stories and how much these grants have helped them has brought even more significance to the generous and intensive work of our volunteers,” she said.

Kofke’s website is at everythingwillbeoksigns.com. Established in the wake of the Dunwoody effort, it offers the yard signs as well as the artwork on T-shirts for $28 and on stickers for $5 or $15. Kofke said the shirts and stickers are “my favorite media for this design, as it’s up to the individual to decide where it goes.”

Kofke says that all profits from his website’s sales will go to artists, who could be nominated for assistance by themselves or others. But there is not yet a process for doing so.

A new “Everything Will Be OK” mural installed in Chicago as part of a fundraiser for people in need during the pandemic, as shown on the website of its organizer, the Lytle House.

For now, the fiscal agent for Kofke’s fundraiser sales is The Creatives Project, a nonprofit based at Atlanta’s Goat Farm Arts Center. Neda Agbhari, the nonprofit’s executive director, did not immediately respond to a comment request, but previously said that details on administering the donation program were awaiting an agreement between Kofke and the Dunwoody organizations. Kofke said he may partner with other Atlanta-area arts nonprofits as well.

Earlier this month, Kofke separately partnered 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.

The history of the artwork

In Dunwoody, “Everything Will Be OK” is a well-known mural consisting of the phrase in rustic black letters on a white or grayish background. It 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 visitors bureau, which calls it “the message that sets Dunwoody apart.”

In an image from an early stage of the “Everything Will Be OK” project, the phrase is spray-painted as graffiti tagging onto a railroad car. (Jason Kofke)

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. Part of the inspiration for the project, he said, was exploring how people deal with catastrophic events, with the Dunwoody mural exhibited in the context of the 2008 global financial crisis.

Update: This story has been updated with information from Kofke and the Spruill Center about the uniformity of the yard-sign design and in the pricing of the signs.

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