Dan King
Dan King · April 8, 2024

CONWAY, N.H.—Tomorrow, voters in Conway, New Hampshire, will hit the polls for the annual warrant article vote. Among the issues voters will tackle is whether to make amendments to the town’s sign code, giving government officials even more power to regulate public art. The vote comes more than a year after Leavitt’s Country Bakery teamed up with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to file a federal lawsuit challenging Conway’s sign code for violating the First Amendment. 

“I remain committed to protecting the art the students painted on Leavitt’s, and all other art throughout Conway, which is why I’ll be voting against this warrant article,” said Leavitt’s owner Sean Young. “Local officials don’t get to play art critic.”  

Sean originally filed the lawsuit after the town’s zoning officials demanded he either tear down or paint over a mural of donuts painted on the store by local high schoolers. That same day, the town agreed to allow the mural to stay in place while the lawsuit against the town is pending.    

Under the proposed changes, which were suggested by the Town’s Planning Board, the discretion to regulate art would be shifted from the zoning board to the planning board. Any commercial entity wanting to put up a mural would have to apply for the board’s permission first. They must show that the proposed art is “representative of the community and the natural beauty of the Mount Washington Valley.” And the board would be empowered to deny an application if it deems anything in the art to be “commercial in nature,” whatever that means.  

“This new proposal does nothing to fix the issues our federal lawsuit identified in Conway’s sign code,” said IJ Senior Attorney Rob Frommer. “We have repeatedly offered to work with Conway to address these issues, but instead the Planning Board is doubling down in its efforts to turn itself into the town’s speech police. If this amendment passes, all it will do is embroil Conway in more controversy and litigation.”