Downtown Oak Harbor mural grows into a larger issue

Mural artist Nancy Hakala, front, says the $6,000 she is being paid for the seven-week project is nearly $4,000 shy of the agreement that she understood. - Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times
Mural artist Nancy Hakala, front, says the $6,000 she is being paid for the seven-week project is nearly $4,000 shy of the agreement that she understood.
— image credit: Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

There’s little argument over the beauty of a new mural that graces a wall in historic downtown Oak Harbor.

But there is a dispute over the artist’s final bill.

Just a month after putting away her paint brushes, artist Nancy Hakala is claiming she will not be fully compensated for the massive mural she spent seven weeks painting on the side of a Pioneer Way building this summer.

Hakala said she made a verbal agreement to be paid $9,750 for the project that grew to be nearly twice as large as originally planned and took about double the time to complete.

After returning home to Auburn, Calif., last month, Hakala said she was told by Karen Mueller, who hired her to paint the mural, that she would not be receiving the amount she had requested.

Instead, Hakala said she was told that she would receive $6,000, the amount in the original signed contract.

“The whole thing is upsetting,” Hakala said this week.

The original contract called for Hakala to paint a mural 10 feet tall by 50 feet wide, or 500 square feet. When she got onsite, the scope of the project grew, and Hakala and Mueller agreed that more optimal dimensions for such a large wall would be 17 feet tall by 53 feet wide, or 881 square feet.

Hakala said she agreed to paint the mural at the larger size as long as she was paid an additional $12 per square foot for the extra work.

Hakala said she relied on the verbal agreement after the written contract was never revised.

“I just want to emphasize I never would have put more paint on the wall than the agreement,” Hakala said.

“Unfortunately, I just went by somebody’s genuine word.”

Such a claim is upsetting to Mueller, who said she’s sad to see the project that she spearheaded as a way to beautify downtown end this way.

Mueller said she did agree to compensate Hakala more for the project, but only if she could raise the additional money.

Mueller said her fundraising efforts beyond covering the original contract, plus the cost to hire someone else to do the lettering, were unsuccessful.

“The agreement was that I would do my best to raise more money, which I did,” Mueller said.

Hakala said she had no idea Mueller would come up short in her fundraising efforts. She said she painted the mural under the assumption she would be fully compensated for all of her work.

She said she wouldn’t expect the money to come out of Mueller’s own pocket.

“I would naturally assume she raised the amount of money for the mural,” Hakala said.

Rhianna McBride, who works at the bookstore, said Hakala was aware of Mueller’s difficulties raising the money and seemed “very positive and supportive of the whole situation,” suggesting that something could be worked out.

One thing Hakala and Mueller do agree on is that neither wanted the mural project to end like this.

Hakala and Mueller agree that this dispute was avoidable had they maintained better communication and revised the written contract.

Mueller said she recently paid the last of three $2,000 installments to Hakala. Mueller also paid a La Conner sign painter $1,050 for lettering on the mural.

Hakala had agreed to allow a local expert handle the lettering and offered for that to be taken out of the nearly $10,000 she was requesting.

As far as Mueller is concerned, payment is now in full.

Though Hakala doesn’t agree, she said she won’t take the matter to court. She isn’t sure why the fundraising efforts stopped after she left town.

Mostly, Hakala said she is sad things ended this way. The people of Oak Harbor warmly embraced her and helped her during a difficult time personally as she was still healing from the death of her son last December, she said.

Positives of her Whidbey Island experience far outweigh the dispute over payment, she said, adding she intends to return to Whidbey Island for future projects.

Her sister lives in Greenbank.

“I don’t want any bad blood in the town,” Hakala said.

“The town has been very kind to me.”


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