The painting of Woody Guthrie projected on the Oklahoma Capitol on Feb. 27. (jackfowlerart / Instagram)

Woody Guthrie died in 1967, but the spirit of the folk singer is alive and well in the American heartland.

On Feb. 27, according to NonDoc, Oklahoma City artist Jack Fowler and technical expert Stephen Tyler projected a giant painting of Guthrie onto a tarpaulin on the side of the Oklahoma state Capitol. Guthrie, who was born in 1912 in Okemah, Okla., was famous, among many other reasons, for writing “This machine kills fascists” on his guitar. The digital mural replaced the singer’s iconic message with the phrase, “How did it come to this.”

“I feel like I need to do something besides vote. This is something I can do,” Fowler, an editorial cartoonist with the Oklahoma Gazette, told NonDoc. “I hope it inspires some conversation, and I hope the people inside this building notice it.”

Tyler also has a history of creating public art and felt compelled to do something when he learned about the tarp draping the Capitol.

“The description was, ‘It’s like a giant canvas.’ So we started to brainstorm and found out there’s power out here,” Tyler told NonDoc after the art installation went up. “Considering the [political] climate, it just seemed ripe for this sort of thing. I thought of Jack because I’d been seeing his political cartoons. Then I ran into him at the bar.”

They hatched their plan in early February. Fowler chose Guthrie and his guitar to be the symbol of protest, “because I think he’d be appalled at what we’ve become.” The artist wanted to shine light on “years of ‘shameful’ lawmaking by the Oklahoma Legislature,” the Oklahoma Gazette reports.

The Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) took notice and on Feb. 28 requested that Fowler and Tyler abandon any future plans for artwork projections.

In an official release, OMES director of public affairs Michael Baker stated:

We appreciate the creativity and ingenuity displayed by local artists last night, but it’s important to note that projecting images onto the State Capitol is prohibited without the necessary permits.

As for specifically projecting an image onto the tarps covering scaffolding, such action is prohibited due to safety concerns. Restoration crews are working at night and light can seep through the tarp material causing a distraction. Such distractions, when working many feet above the ground, can be extremely hazardous.

We would ask that future plans to project images onto the tarp be abandoned out of respect for workers’ safety.

Again, we appreciate the creativity displayed last night, but to repeat such action could have significant consequences, cause safety issues for crews working at night and is prohibited.

The response puzzled Fowler.

“I find it odd that they cited this light seepage and safety concern when they have two megawatt floodlights pointed at this tarp all night long,” Fowler told NonDoc. “Either their lights are safer than my lights, or they are splitting hairs about freedom of speech in the most unusual place possible.”

His comment to the Oklahoma Gazette was blunter: “When was the last time too much light fucked up a construction site?”

Fowler returned March 1 with a stronger power source, but the Oklahoma Highway Patrol prevented him from projecting Guthrie’s image again.

Though state officials have turned off the lights on the projector project, the protest continues. Literati Press has started distributing bumper stickers of Guthrie’s guitar:

And according to the Gazette:

[Fowler] is working with a friend who runs a T-shirt company that would make customizable shirts with the image. Proceeds would benefit Oklahoma City school art programs.

Fowler also said he spoke with American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma executive director Ryan Kiesel, who thanked Fowler for shedding light on the gray area that exists over the right of citizens to have access to the Capitol grounds and public property.

“The thing that excites me is that some tangible results are starting to come out of this,” Fowler said.

You can continue to follow the protest on social media with the hashtag #WoodysGuitar.

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Woody Guthrie would be proud.

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