This past week, I was walking around St. George Street downtown when I came across this man. He was standing, not bothering anybody wearing a sign that read, "Creating Art Is Not A Crime Except In St. Augustine, Fla."
Of course, seeing and reading something that blunt sparked my interest, so I visited the website he had on his sign, and looked in the St. Augustine Record for more information. After researching I was able to further understand this man's frustration. He and many others like him deserve to be frustrated.
In St. Augustine, Florida, it is in fact illegal to paint pictures in public, and you can be arrested for it. Painting is now considered performing, and any type of performing in public has been illegal in the plaza, on St. George Street, and many other streets since 2009. The reason for the ban is that the authorities believe performance downtown causes too much chaos. There are 12 spots in the plaza that are legally available for $75/month rent, and these are given out on a lottery based system, that way the chances are equal all around. The plaza is a main attraction for tourists on a day to day basis so, when an artist doesn't receive a spot that month they can lose out on tons of money. This system really hurts the artists during the months of Nights of Lights which is the city's most popular attraction.
The rules can be confusing for many artists and that is where the frustration really sets in. If the city is going to make it illegal downtown and the artists are going to be forced to abide by the law (or be fined/spend up to 60 days in jail), they should at least offer open alternatives. The problem is that they believe they have offered alternatives. The city has decided on different legal places where artists may paint their work, such as the City Hall, but an artist may never know since the information on what is allowed is not easily accessible. It is almost as if they are trying to keep it a secret, to keep artists from trying to paint anywhere.
Many artists are concerned with the concept of being publicly embarrassed by receiving fines or being arrested, for doing what they love. Therefore they don't even bother trying to find out where or when they are "allowed" to paint. Something that is especially irritating to me is that the City of St. Augustine is shedding such a negative light on the artistic community. They are portraying painting in public as such a repugnant, out of control problem/crime when there are a million worse things going on right here in our own town. Painting in public should be one of the least of an officers worries.
Recently in June of 2015, four artists joined together to make an attempt at getting the rules changed by presenting the case that the current restrictions are unconstitutional. Hopefully something will come from the attempt because art IS a freedom of expression, and this problem does NOT deserve to go unnoticed. There is a vast amount of artistic talent in the surrounding area that is eagerly waiting to be shared in downtown St. Augustine in more than the 12 current lottery based spots.
To learn more about the Creating Art Is Not A Crime, visit http://www.culturalartists.org/.