‘Celebrity Pastor’ Rich Wilkerson Jr. Sued by Street Artists for Using Their Murals Without Permission

Pastor Rich Wilkerson Jr. preaching at the Jose De Diego Middle School in Miami, FL. (Photo by Devin Christopher)
Pastor Rich Wilkerson Jr. preaching at the Jose De Diego Middle School in Miami, FL. (Photo by Devin Christopher)

What started as a good deed for a Miami-Dade school has turned into a legal battle. On one side: eight street artists who donated their talent to paint striking murals at Jose de Diego, a struggling middle school in Wynwood. On the other: Rich Wilkerson, Jr., the handsome celebrity pastor who married Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. The two sides had been negotiating until Wednesday, when the mostly Miami-based artists filed a federal lawsuit in Miami saying their work at the school was used — without their permission — to advertise Wilkerson’s new church.

They are asking to be paid licensing and attorney’s fees. “Artists have the right to choose the companies and brands with whom they work,” said Andrew Gerber, a New York attorney representing the artists. “It is critical for artists to maintain control over these things.” Church representatives did not return requests for comment. Artists from around the world donated their talent during Art Basel 2014 to cover Jose de Diego Middle school in massive murals, bridging the gap between the public school and the vibrant art scene that surrounds it in Wynwood. One mural features the curious eyes of a child peering out. Another shows a dancer leaping into the air and wearing a colorful dress. Another oozes with color that drips all the way to the ground.

One of the artists suing in U.S. District Court is Ahol Sniffs Glue, known for his murals of droopy eyes. Gerber represented Ahol in a similar suit against the clothing retail giant American Eagle Outfitters. That suit ended in a confidential settlement. Robert de los Rios, a Wynwood and arts promoter who helped organized the project at Jose de Diego, called the legal tussle “heartbreaking.” “It feels like s*** that this happened in the first place and it feels worse that no one reached out to the artists,” he said. “At the very least, someone needs to reach out and say, ‘Hey, we love the image. How can we use it?’ …The issue here was the complete and utter disrespect.” In September, Wilkerson’s new church began renting out the school auditorium for its services.

Called Vous Church – short for rendezvous – the congregation branched from Trinity, the Miami Gardens megachurch started by Wilkerson’s father. Vous is known for attracting young people and celebrities with hip sermons that draw on the latest song lyrics or social trends. To advertise their new location, Vous superimposed its logos on images painted at the school and Wilkerson shared them with his thousands of social media followers.

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SOURCE: Miami Herald
Christina Veiga

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