Tuesday, May 21, 2013
PORTLAND – A city task force is recommending tightening the rules for street artists, including banning them in Bell Buoy Park – a hot spot during cruise ship season.
Photographer Anna Karlina has been selling her colorful, digital photos in Portland's Monument Square and the Old Port for years. The city, however, is mulling new restrictions for street-art sales.
John Ewing / Staff Photographer
Lian Glover sells her hand-knit hats in Portland's Monument Square on Wednesday.
John Ewing / Staff Photographer
While city staff had hoped for more guidance about who can and can't set up a sidewalk stand, however, the task force decided not to redefine what constitutes art in city code.
The Street Artist Task Force recommends prohibiting street artists from setting up tables within 10 feet of an existing, non-food retailer and on sidewalks that are less than 8 feet wide.
The task force also wants artists to register at City Hall -- at no cost -- and display a sticker on their tables. Each artist will be given a copy of the rules upon registering.
The proposed rules are designed to improve public safety while protecting bricks-and-mortar merchants, said City Councilor Edward Suslovic.
Only artists who fit the U.S. Supreme Court's definition of art will be allowed to set up stands. According to city code, works of art protected by the First Amendment include "expressive items such as paintings, photographs, prints and sculptures" as well as performance art.
Task force chairwoman Jennifer Hutchins said the group wanted to keep the definition of art as liberal as possible. At the same time, she said, selling someone else's products is prohibited.
"There is nothing in the street-artist rules that indicates you can sell something you didn't make," Hutchins said.
The task force recommended banning art vendors from Bell Buoy Park near the Casco Bay Lines terminal, citing safety concerns for pedestrians, Suslovic said.
"It's such a heavily traveled pedestrian point, especially for the ferry passengers," he said. Vendors will "be allowed to set-up on the sidewalk on either side of Bell Buoy Park, but not right in Bell Buoy Park."
The pushcart merchants have become a focus of conflict in the city's Old Port. More than 60 businesses have signed a petition asking the city to crack down on street vendors.
Ryan Harding, who manages Ports of Call, a gift shop on Commercial Street, told the Press Herald in October that vendors block pedestrian traffic. Unlike the merchants, they don't pay any taxes or fees, he said.
Others retailers have complained that the vendors create a chaotic environment.
The task force has been monitoring street artists for about a year, after a city attorney began telling certain vendors, such as crafters, that their items didn't fit the legal definition of art.
The arts and crafts community packed the Merrill Auditorium Rehearsal Hall last fall to push back, saying the lawyer's definition was too narrow.
On Wednesday, Lian Glover was one of two artisans set up at the Monument Square Farmer's Market and bundled against the 31-degree air. She was concerned that the new rules ultimately could be too restrictive and wondered whether the city would think that her hand-knitted hats were art.
"What I see up here," said Glover pointing to her head, "is going to come out. People see my hats and say they're beautiful. These are my art."
Photographer Anna Karlina, who was set up near Monument Square on Wednesday, supports limits on table size and efforts to keep sidewalks passable. But she is also worried about the restrictiveness of the proposed 8-foot sidewalk rule and the 10-foot buffer from retailers.
"I think there's enough room for everybody," Karlina said. "I think everybody ought to work together to make the city more appealing."
Last summer, the city concentrated on educating artists about the city code, which requires products to be handmade and limits displays to 12 square feet -- including artist and chair -- while leaving a 4-foot-wide pathway for pedestrians.
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click image to enlarge
In this October 2011 file photo, vendors take advantage of the large cruise ships coming into Portland by selling goods in Bell Buoy Park. The city is considering new restrictions on street-art sales.
Derek Davis / Staff Photographer