Tensions between city merchants, some members of the Portland Farmers’ Market and the growing number of street artists have risen to such a crescendo that the city’s Health & Recreation Committee hosted a public forum in which it took two hours of testimony regarding its proposal to designate Thursdays from 8am to 2 pm Crafters’ Market Day on Monument Square.
Rather than forward a recommendation on to the city council for its approval, the Committee decided to request that a task force be formed for further study and recommendations. Committee Chair Dory Waxman told the well-attended forum at the Merrill Auditorium rehersal hall that the process will be a long one – partially because of the upcoming mayoral race – and – spilling substantially into the new year.
Donald L. Tuski, Ph.D., President of the Maine College of Art, asked to be a member of that task force.
None of the roughly fifty or so who testified before the Committee supported the idea of the separate crafters’ market as written by Mary Costigan, city counsel. Artists testified they don’t want to be confined to a craft market when many customers/artists are working their day jobs, some objected to a fee of $70. the proposal would require of each artist to participate, a provision that work be juried and a feeling that the city is only looking for money from them to fill its coffers.
Jan Bitzer, executive director of Portland Downtown District said in her brief statement that some of the merchants are tired of the street artists doing whatever they want wherever they want to do. Peter Hayward, an artist/lawyer challenged Costingan’s assertion that she does not determine what art is and is not – the federal authorities have already done that for her. Hayward passionately said that is not correct.
Fiber artist Gail Huhtamaki, 60, was laid off from her job in the corporate world two years ago. Huhtamaki said that the proposed Crafter’s Market is off point..she had not spoken to one artist who supports the “Crafters’ Market” proposal. “In this time of extreme economic hardship, the City must recognize the importance of allowing street artists to sell their hand-crafted items to the broadest audience possible,” she said.
Larry Bruns, the 15 year manager of the Wednesday Food Market in Monument Square said that last year he began to notice that artists were selling their art at that event, although city ordinance prevents artists from doing so. “It’s a matter of limited parking,” he told one artist following the meeting.
“Whatever happens, get some toilets down there! That comes under the category of Health & Recreation,” said speakerJay Patch. That produced one of the few moments of levity during the at times emotional public meeting.
Committee member John Anton was not present at the meeting because of a prior commitment.