Some of the artists coming to the area this weekend for the St. Augustine Art Association’s Plein Air Paint Out will be doing more than simply painting; they’ll be protesting city restrictions on creating art in public areas.
The protest is planned for Saturday, when some artists plan to set up easels where the city prohibits painting and other art forms. The protest will fall on one day of the Plein Air Paint Out event, a multi-day event that will bring artists to the city to paint outside.
The events aren’t connected, though they are both focused on promoting the arts.
The city prohibits art creation — considered a performance under city code — on north St. George Street, Hypolita Street, parts of nearby streets and much of the Plaza de la Constitucion. But artists can paint and draw in other public areas such as at City Hall.
Angel Jones, an Orlando-based fashion designer, is arranging participation in the Saturday protest, she said. The event is expected to begin by 1:30 p.m. in the Plaza de la Constitucion and on St. George Street, according to a Facebook group dedicated to the event. But Jones said she plans to have everyone there by noon at the latest and could start earlier.
Some artists are planning to paint on St. George Street in defiance of the city’s laws “just to show how insane it is to not be allowed to paint on your own property or your own easel,” she said.
“Our goal is to get our rights back,” Jones said later. “Our goal is to show that creating art is not a crime.”
As allowed in other sections of the code, authorities are able to enforce the rules with a fine of up to $500 and arrest, said Denise May, assistant city attorney. The city’s top priority, though, is educating people on where they can legally create art, May said.
“We will enforce our ordinances if [people] indeed are performing or violating them,” May said.
The city’s rules have been shaped over the years through legal battles over constitutional rights. The city is now in mediation with four artists who filed a lawsuit against the city for rules that restrict the sale of art in public spaces.
Artist Scott Waters of St. Augustine plans to take part in the protest, saying the city’s arts culture has changed for the worse over the years as its regulations on street performers have tightened.
“I came here to do art, and I want to do art on the street,” Waters said.
Waters said he and other artists are willing to strike a balance with the city, and he’d be willing to pay for time in a designated space in a public area, he said.
While some are pressing for the ability to create art in prohibited areas, others are highlighting the space that’s already legally available.
The St. Augustine Art Association’s plein air event, a daily event that ends April 30, will bring more than 50 artists to the city to capture Henry Flagler-era “impressions” in anticipation of the Dressing Downton exhibit in October, said Elyse Brady, executive director of association.
The goal of the event, which draws from the support of other organizations, is to give artists the opportunity to experience the city’s beauty, learn about the architecture and promote artistic excellence, Brady said. The artists could be working near Flagler College, or painting a historic church, or one of the private places that has opened for artists in the event, she said.
They also won’t create art in prohibited areas, she said.
“There’s been a perception in St. Augustine that you cannot paint in (the city), and that’s not true. … Part of the goal of this event is to, perhaps, change that perception,” Brady said.