Historic City News listened to local artist Gregory Travous face off with Melbourne First Amendment attorney Michael H. Kahn during an appearance this morning on WJCT radio program “First Coast Connect”.
Producer and host Melissa Ross discussed the controversy over vendor regulation in St. Augustine’s historic district and the Plaza de la Constitucion.
For just over 30 minutes, Ross accepted calls from listeners in St. Augustine and the Jacksonville area. Due to the length of some of the questions, only 10 callers were able to participate in the time allowed.
Travous, who publishes a blog titled “Art in the Market”, concedes that the City of St. Augustine has the right to enforce reasonable regulation of the time, place and manner in which artists may use the public plaza. However, he doesn’t feel the city is being reasonable in their latest attempt to invoke a lottery to assign rights for visual artists to display and sell their artwork.
Travous contends that visual art, such as the paintings he creates, are protected expressions under the First Amendment of the U. S. Constitution and that the city has no authority to charge a fee to an artist for a successful lottery bid or to prohibit other painters, and him, from setting up an easel and selling paintings in the city’s historic plaza.
Kahn says that the purpose of the recent ordinances approved by the St. Augustine City Commission were not to prohibit artists, but rather to allow them to express themselves at regulated times, places and in an approved manner — within the public market of the plaza.
When Travous threatened that the artists will continue to hold bake sales and raise money to take the city back to court, Ross asked Kahn if there was any room for a compromise. Kahn said the new ordinances represent a compromise on the city’s part — opening up other public areas of the city for artists, street performers and vendors that were previously closed.
J.D. Pleasant and a caller who identified himself as “Joe” took the opportunity of the call-in program to insult Kahn; calling him a “con man”. Pleasant said that he feels the city has a strategy to make the artists “run out of money” rather than allow them the freedom to paint in the plaza.
Calls were mixed with one caller identified as “Joy” disputing the value of the ordinance that prohibits street performers on St. George Street; relegating them to side streets which she feels are more narrow. Kahn said the problem with pedestrians on St. George Street is that their volume far exceeds the traffic on the side streets — resulting is less congestion even though they are narrower.
Travous made the comment that he is “OK” with prohibiting street vendors — but not artists.
Other calls compared St. Augustine to European cities where outdoor artists are commonplace, one caller identified as “Bryan” said that in his opinion, artists and performers “add to the ambience”. Dean Quigley also noted that in his opinion, there is a difference between “vending” and “expressive” activities such as visual art and performers.
A caller identified as “Jonathan” said that, to him, what the artists are complaining about amounts to “peddling on the street” and shouldn’t be allowed. The same sentiments were expressed by a caller identified as “Dave” when he said that four generations of his family have lived in the downtown area of St. Augustine and the plaza’s condition has deteriorated to “a ridiculous state”. Dave went on to say that today, the plaza “looks like a carnival”.
The one hour call-in program aired this morning at 9:00 a.m. on 89.9 FM — the First Coast community-supported public broadcasting station.
Photo credit: © 2009 Historic City News photographer Kerry McGuire and contributed photo