The city’s rules for street artists, created to settle a lawsuit, are being tested for the first time.
Under new rules that went into effect in October, the spaces in the Plaza de la Constitucion market are only for street artists, people who engage in expressive speech like painting, photography and playing music. The Plaza market had been open to strictly commercial vendors, as well as artists and performers, via lottery.
The city also created a dozen new spaces for street artists near the city parking garage. Strictly commercial activity is allowed in other spaces near the garage.
The new ordinances are part of the city’s settlement of a lawsuit filed by four artists who took issue with the city’s rules that restricted the sale of art in public places. It was one of a number of court battles that have shaped the city’s rules regarding vending and street performances.
One ordinance defines street artists as people who engage in expressive speech and it defines expressive speech as including, but not limited to, juggling, taking photos, playing music, drawing, painting and singing. Expressive speech doesn’t include making or selling things of a utilitarian purpose that don’t have First Amendment expressive content, according to the ordinance.
As part of the ordinances, street artists can use space in the Plaza market or near the parking garage. To get a space, they apply for a permit and enter a lottery where city officials randomly select applications. If chosen, they pay $25 for a permit.
“They have to affirm and attest on their application that what they’re doing is a First Amendment-protected activity … If we find that that’s become abused, we’ll probably go down a review of the permit to see that they are doing what they attested they were doing,” said Assistant City Attorney Denise May.
The city recently held its first permit lottery under the new ordinances. Almost every applicant who asked for a November permit got one.
To help make the point Plaza market spaces are for street artists who have a permit, the city recently posted a no-trespassing sign, May said. She said the sign isn’t intended to keep people from walking through the market.
All of the Plaza market’s dozen spaces are taken for November. The artists are people who have been in the market before, including painters, photographers, jewelers, woodworkers and sculptors, said Cori Niles, coordinator in the customer service department, which handles lottery applications. A few applications for the Plaza market weren’t chosen and those people did not want a space near the parking garage, Niles said.
St. Augustine resident Sylvia Hostetter received one of the Plaza permits. She sculpts bonsai trees from dozens of plant varieties from her home and sells them elsewhere, she said.
By the time her creations appear for sale, she’s already sculpted them for months or years, she said.
“I had 30 years experience in doing this. … I have plants that are 26 years old,” said Hostetter, who owns the Closet Gardener.
As of this week, only one artist had received a permit to operate in the spaces near the parking garage, and he plans to sell paintings and photography, Niles said. The city denied a permit to someone who wanted a space near the parking garage to create stencil tattoos using purchased stencils, Niles and May said. That was considered commercial activity.
While there’s no rule that says artists have to create their art on site, officials would prefer things happen that way, May said.
“The point of our lively market is to show off our artists,” she said.