The Kotis Street Art Outdoor Gallery grows amid a twisting gravel path, on the cleared-off half of a lot by the roller rink, a couple affordable-housing complexes and a Kotis strip mall that looks like it was made from bathroom tile in 1987.
This gallery has got everything: street-style graffiti, photorealism, surrealism, abstraction, impressionism, cubism, manga, comic-book art, tattoo flash, design and a deep well of street cred due to its location, yes, but also to its benefactor, Marty Kotis, who has been spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on outdoor murals in Greensboro and elsewhere. This little project represents just a fraction of the street art he’s sponsored. And because Kotis is not one of those patrons who likes to keep his name in the background, each one bears the imprimatur of Kotis Street Art. If it weren’t for that, this place would be one of the most celebrated in town.
Because as they say on the street, Marty Kotis cannot keep from stepping on his own dick.
Like the concrete panels he’s erected in this once-abandoned lot — abandoned by him, because he’s the one who owns it — Kotis is multifaceted.
Though he does not live in Greensboro, he owns a lot of property here, including most of the Midtown district which he named and then festooned with dozens of murals, completely transforming the corridor. This gives him an outsized influence in city politics. He has been a major donor to many Republican candidates in state and national politics, and sometimes uses his Battleground Avenue billboard to promote Republican candidates, Libertarian talking points and weird, self-aware propaganda. This often puts him at odds with people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, city dwellers and everyone else the state GOP marginalizes through policy, gerrymander and budget.
His time on the UNC System Board of Governors put him at odds with the academic community even before the racist treatment of Nikole Hannah-Jones at UNC-Chapel Hill, his alma mater, when he suggested they should be building computer servers instead of new dorms.
He became a trustee at UNC-Chapel Hill just in time to approve tenure for Hannah-Jones, and just before she turned the offer down.
And last week he made the news by officially proposing, in all seriousness, that UNC-Chapel Hill stop using “race, sex, color or ethnicity” when evaluating prospective students.
Kotis and I are no longer taking each other’s calls, so I’m speculating when I say he likely still doesn’t understand the subtext of his suggestion: that too much diversity reduces the overall quality of the school, that a couple of centuries of inequality have had no effect on opportunity, that he “doesn’t see color” even though it’s provable that most everybody else in this country does.
But because he’s Marty Kotis, he never has to understand these things, just like he doesn’t have to understand street art to throw up the best murals in town. And that’s not his problem; it’s ours.