Building owners who want to hire artists to create murals on their exterior walls should know a few things. The City of Chicago's municipal code considers murals to be a sign (see 13-20-550 in the Municipal Code of Chicago), and it regulates the size and placement of signs and murals including which ones need permits.
Additionally, the zoning code dictates which zoning districts are allowed to have signs, but “works of art with no commercial message” are exempted from zoning code regulations. This means murals are allowed in all zoning districts and aren’t subject to size restrictions.
Murals meeting the following requirements won’t need a sign permit:
The mural doesn't have a business name
The mural doesn't have a business logo
The mural doesn't have a business slogan
The mural doesn't have a business trademark
The mural doesn't have a social media identifier
The mural doesn't have any other business identification
If the mural has one of the above characteristics, it will require a permit. Contact MAPS and we can calculate your building’s sign allowances.
The City of Chicago uses the “graffiti” definition in section 7-28-065 to also define a mural, which “means an inscription, drawing, mark or design that is etched, painted, sprayed or drawn directly upon the exterior of any building or other structure and is visible from the public way”.
A new provision allows the muralist to acknowledge a sponsor or partner organization in an "acknowledgement panel". City Council adopted this change on January 23, 2019 (SO2018-9300).
The acknowledgement panel must adjoin the bottom edge of the mural and exist entirely inside the bounds of the mural. Acknowledgement panels displayed outside the mural bounds would also be considered a sign. The acknowledgement panel cannot exceed two square feet in area; the mention of the sponsors or partners must be written.
The City of Chicago also has a mural registry for artists, organizations, and property owners to register a mural by submitting an application.
Mural on a building at 1708 E. 79th Street in South Shore by Don’t Fret; photo by Eric Allix Rogers.