Street Artists Task Force Discusses ‘Overcrowding’ Concerns at Bell Buoy Park & Elsewhere

Jennifer Hutchins, Task Force Chair, Jessica Tomlinson, MECA and Larry Bruns, Manager for Farmers' Market, Monument Square”][/caption][caption id=”attachment_25919″ align=”alignleft” width=”300″ caption= By Carol McCracken (Post # 1,007)

“This is a logistical issue. Congestion is the problem and it becomes a public safety issue as well,” said city councilor Ed Suslovic at the first meeting of the street artists task force last Thursday afternoon. “Perhaps our focus should be on reasonable times and places.”

The task force was set up last month by a city council committee in order to make recommendations to it on how to ease tensions that have developed between some members of the Portland Farmer’s Market, city merchants and the growing number of street artists at Bell Buoy Park on the Portland waterfront. Masses of vendors congregate when cruise ships arrive creating congestion and public safety issues during peak times. A boiling point occurred last year when former city attorney Mary Costigin was dispatched by the city to the Park to determine who could stay and who could not – according to her determination as to whether or not it was art. According to Suslovic this duty was what motivated Costigin to resign from the city and find employment at a local law firm.

“My hope is that we simplify the rules, who they apply to, and avoid putting city employees in a position of determining what is art and what is not,” Suslovic said. “That’s what drove Mary away.”

The task force decided not to come up with a definition of what is art and what is not art of its own. “This is a national issue and we won’t solve it here,” said Jessica Tomlinson, of Maine College of Art (“MECA”).
The task force acknowledged that determing what and how to charge a fee for use of city property would be a difficult issue to resolve. Artists protected by first amendment rights cannot be charged a fee but crafters are another issue.

The task force expects to meet again in two weeks. Its recommendations will be returned to the Public Safety and Health & Human Services Committee. It will make its recommendation to the city council for its decision; that vote is expected to come in June. Councilor Suslovic is on a 4 week trip to Russia.

For more, please see Posts # 1,085, dated 2/19/12 and # 999, dated 2/19/11.