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, without a commercial message, 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 a commercial message or one of the above characteristics, it will require a permit. Contact MAPS and we can calculate your building’s sign allowances.
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. Designs or text mentioning businesses (in any form in the list above) 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.
If the design of the mural could be construed as graffiti according to section 7-28-065 in the municipal code, the building owner should register the graffiti with the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events (DCASE).
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.