February 15, 2013

Registry likely for Portland street artists

A City Council committee rejects many proposals but backs free registration despite legal qualms.

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Members of the Creative Community Coalition, from left, Abbeth Russell, William Hessian, Marrion Ladd and Asher Platts work on their presentation Monday at Russell’s and Hessian’s home in Portland. The city said Tuesday it is pressing forward with a plan to create a registration system for street art vendors, likely setting up a legal showdown with free-speech advocates.

Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer

William Hessian, a member of the newly formed Creative Community Coalition, said a registry would be an unnecessary barrier to artists and run contrary to the city's image as welcoming to artists.

"We want people to come into Portland and be a part of ( the art community) immediately and not have to register," Hessian said

Ron Slater said he's been fighting new rules since 2004. He said it was "ridiculous" that a man walked around town with an assault rifle shortly after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., that killed 26 people, including 20 children. Portland police couldn't even ask him his name, because of the Second Amendment, he said.

"I believe the First Amendment is first for a reason," Slater said. It's the most important."

Mike Shaughnessy, a professor of sculpture at the University of Southern Maine, said street art is an important form of "creative entrepreneurialism." Artists are testing their work and the marketplace to see what sells, he said, noting they could someday be successful.

"Those people will become . . . the Angela Adamses, the leaders. You want to make this place hospitable for them," he said. "I would encourage you to keep it as open and vibrant as you can . . . allow it to be spontaneous."

The Portland Downtown District voiced support for all of the proposed restrictions, as did two business owners.

Sandra Jones owns Something's Fishy, an Exchange Street business that's been open for more than 30 years. She spearheaded a petition drive asking the city to crack down on street artists and "allowing the Old Portland to become a flea market especially on cruise ship days."

Jones said she served on the Portland Chamber's cruise ship committee in 1990, which helped make the city a popular cruise destination, giving business owners a reason to hang on during the long winters.

Now that the number of cruise ships has increased, so has the number of street artists, said Jones.

"Now I find my ability to make a living threatened by the street artists," Jones said. "I've paid my taxes; I've paid my dues."

Photographer Jim O'Reilly, who said he represented artists that set up in Bell Buoy Park, suggested the rules being proposed were simply a way to appease business owners.

"I think the issue is a largely a smoke screen," said O'Reilly. "I think people bring up safety because they're looking for an avenue to get this done for the businesses."

Marrion Ladd, an organizer of the Creative Community Coalition, was pleased with the committee vote, except for the registry. But she was comforted that the ACLU of Maine seemed ready to challenge that requirement -- if approved by the full council -- in court.

"I feel good about that," she said.


Staff Writer Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:


Twitter: @randybillings


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