City Committee Considers How to Regulate Street Artists; “This Is a Huge First Ammendent Issue,” Councilor Leeman

Artists Waiting to Testify

By Carol McCracken  (Post # 1,296)

Last night a city council committee took a legally risky step when it voted 3 – 1 to support a requirement that street artists register with the city as a prerequisite to selling their art work in the city.  Committee member Cheryl Leeman cast the  dissenting vote as she questioned the legal validity of the proposal.   At a later date, the recommendation of the Health & Safety Committee will be forwarded to the full City Council for its action. If the council  supports the registration recommendation, it will most likely face a legal challenge from the artists ACLU attorney on First Amendment Rights.  

The issue of tension between merchants on the waterfront and the street artists is not a new one.  But it  arose again about three years ago said former city councilor Dory Waxman last night.   In October of 2011, Waxman held a  public meeting at Merrill Auditorium at  which over fifty artists testified; sometimes quite emotionally about abuse of  their first amendment rights. (Artists rejected  the creation of a “Crafters’ Market” to be held at Monument Square every Thursday; similar to the Farmers Market held every Wednesday there.)  At that time, the outgoing Waxman decided rather than forward a recommendation to the council, it was better to form a task force to study the issue more deeply.  That happened. The task force was comprised of councilor Ed Suslovic, Jan Beitzer, Abbeth Russell, Jennifer Hutchins and others.

Attorney Zachary Heiden, ACLU of Maine, told the Committee  in a brief statement  last night:  “Registration is a form of prior restraint.  A law requiring a permit to engage in such speech constitues a dramatic departure from our national heritage and constituional tradition.” Numerous artists testified against the registration proposal and as well as ban on artists from selling in Bell Bouy Park on the waterfront and near the lucrative cruise ship  business during the fall. Asher Platts, one of many artists testifying last night, told the Committeed that he believed in the “triple up theory” that artists create.  He also called for a ban on vehicle traffic in the area to alleviate congestion.

Councilor Suslovic maintained that registering artists was not a problem because the same is done for protest groups.   “The city can declare where protests can take place with a permit so they can do the same with artists,” he said.

Following the meeting, Platts said he was disappointed that the council never even considered the proposal put forth by the Creative Community Coalition of Portland.  It called for auto-free designated streets and no registration among other recommendations.  “It was like no artists spoke up at all,” he said.

For more background information, please visit Post # 999, dated October 19, 2011 herein.