Monday, January 18, 2016

Plein-Air Painting is Illegal in St. Augustine

Painting outdoors in the downtown areas of Saint Augustine, Florida is a criminal offense and can result in a six month jail term and a fine of up to $500.00. The law regards plein-air painting as a form of performing, which is banned. Similar bans have been enacted in Winter Park, FL and Barcelona, Spain.



I asked Roger Bansemer, an outdoor painter who lives in Saint Augustine, for his views on this law. Roger and his wife Sarah host a nationwide show "Painting and Travel with Roger and Sarah Bansemer" on PBS (Public Broadcasting Service).

Gurney: What brought about the ban?
Bansemer: Shop owners complained because artists were taking up space in front of their businesses, but the bigger problem was that artists felt they had the "right" to set up shop on the street or park and commercially sell their paintings. So the artists in many respects were to blame for what has happened. When artists were allowed to sell their paintings, others felt they had the right to do the same so people began selling sun glasses and so on. It became a problem especially to those shop owners who pay high rents to have space usurped in front of their stores. Painting in public is one thing, but setting up a dozen paintings for sale around your feet is something else and the city has the right to limit that type of activity.

Gurney: What are the repercussions of this law?
Bansemer: I get lots and lots of emails from people all over the country asking if this ban of artists is really true and I have to answer that it is. To be fair, the ban is only in certain parts of the historic district and there are many other places to paint. But even that can be an issue because street performers can fit into that category with painters so the city has simply banned everyone who might be considered an artist. Unfortunately, St. Augustine is getting tons of bad press because the issue hasn't been resolved. 

JG: Is there another way that your city government could deal with those problems?
RB: The solution is "One artist, one painting." People love to watch artists at work and it enhances the experience of tourists that come to town.

JG: What advice would you give to artists who want to paint in popular or crowded tourist areas?
RB: Don't make your plein-air painting experience into a selling venue. You'll ruin it for everyone. Position yourself where you won't block shop owners' window displays or entrances where tourists gather to watch you. Be professional, which includes being tidy even down to what you wear. Don't make your plein-air painting a personal showcase of you or your work.

JG: Do you have a message for merchants or town governments who have similar concerns?
RB: Tourists love to watch artists at work. Businesses should realize that an artist quietly working at one painting at his/her easel will attract business and add to the artistic flavor of the community. Here in St. Augustine at the town square, you can get up on the pavilion and give a speech but can't quietly paint that same pavilion. It doesn't make sense.
----
YouTube trailer for Roger's program: "Painting and Travel" on PBS
Article: St. Augustine Has Outlawed Art, And You Should Know About It
Article: When Outdoor Painting is Illegal
Facebook Group: Illegal Paintings of Park Avenue

19 comments:

dragonladych said...

That's really weird. In most bigger cities there is a special market zone where you are allowed to sell your art. But to forbid it just because some have over done it... Would make more sense to simply fine a few people who do that and it would stop.

In Switzerland you need a permit if you are a street artist (doesn't apply to plein air painting, but as soon as you sell anything you need a permit)and you need a different permit for each town. A bit complicated but at least it keeps this problem away.

As usual just forbidding a thing is a simplistic way to deal with a problem.

Sesco said...

I used to live in St Augustine. I enjoyed watching and talking to 'sidewalk' artists on the downtown mall; however, Mr. Bansemer has succinctly described the problem. The mall and the small green park area just outside the mall became congested with 'salespeople' effectively destroying the ambiance of it all. The city either had to ban all of it, or sell permits, and no one could justify or figure out how to do such a thing. The city is absolutely beautiful and there are multiple locations over square miles which offer the painter wonderful compositions. The downtown area became congested due to the pedestrian tourist traffic and the desire to sell to them. As a painter myself, it is easy to see how the city was backed into a corner. I think they did the only thing they could have done to preserve the look and feel of the historic area and prevent it from turning into a Ripley's Believe It Or Not of hawkers, the homeless, and performance artists.

Lou said...

Poorly crafted law. Shotgun legislation we used to call it in law enforcement. There are many cities who have dealt with these same issues. I'd like to think that St. Augustine's City Council reached out to other jurisdictions to learn from their experiences and compare what they wrote. Frankly their law doesn't read like it.

I sent a note to the City Council last week saying essentially the same thing. I'm sure they'll have a busy inbox for a while.

Glenn Tait said...

It seems a division between creating and selling would be a good place to start. That would deal with taking away business from the retail stores along with some of the other issues. Then a scheduled placement of artists, with permits, set up in designated areas would prove beneficial both to the artists and businesses giving a value added experience to shoppers and tourists.

Steve Merryman said...

I suspect if a painter is painting in the city park, is not selling anything ("one artist - one painting" as Bansemer says) and is subsequently cited in violation of this ordnance, he or she would have a strong case for a violation of their 1st Amendment right to Free Speech.

Painting is a form of expression, just like speech. In the U.S., public parks have long been considered sacred ground for Free Speech, and any restrictions would likely be overturned.

James Gurney said...

Thanks, everyone for those thoughtful comments. Roger's comments are very balanced and reasonable. I hope St. Augustine will amend their law to allow non-commercial painters who don't obstruct traffic to work freely. Surely they don't want St. Augustine in the news with the reputation of being against art or against free speech.

Lydia Velarde said...

I enjoyed your post and the "inside story" thank you!

Celeste Bergin said...

Oh, that sounds "reasonable" to some extent...but to throw a blanket over all plein air painters because SOME have "set up business" ....well constitutional rights are being violated here. Offer permits or fine the people who are wrongfully setting up plein air painting kiosks, but don't take away the rights of people painting paintings, for God's sake. If I had the time, money and inclination I'd go there and paint where I was not blocking a stores entrance and I wouldn't prop up paintings around my feet. Then I would be arrested and I would quickly become the Rosa Parks of Floridian Plein air painters, because I would fight their illegal ordinance tooth and nail and I'd WIN because I'd hire Allen Dershowitz to defend me and this whole crazeeee chapter would quickly come to a close.

Celeste Bergin said...

P.S. As a side note, I love Florida. I was born there. But St. Augustine does not have the right to amend the United States Constitution.

Karen Bowden said...

Sadly, the city of Winter Park in Florida has recently banned plein air artists.

broker12 said...

I'm a longtime artist and, naturally, I believe in all the freedoms artists everywhere expect simply because they/we are "special." However, I owned and operated a retail business in my city for 15 years. My store had a covered entrance, a space of about 10 feet long and 8 feet wide (more or less). It was rather common to find vagrants sleeping there when I arrived in the morning to open my business. I had to wade through winos, wackos and weirdos on a regular basis just to do business. I became fairly fit marching them to the curb (and beyond) when necessary.

Robert J. Simone said...

I understand the control and regulation of artists setting displays of work for sale without a license. But to ban the act of plein air painting in blanket fashion means they should also ban photography. Other Florida cities who embrace plein air painting will have a strategic advantage in attracting the tourist dollars.

Gregory Lee said...

I'm on the side of the constitution, here. The right to sell is not constitutionally protected like speech. It's not appropriate to approach this dispute as if it involved a balancing of the economic interests of store merchants and street merchants.

Faisal Tariq said...

This is a very good idea!

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Simple solution would be to require a business permit to sell paintings, even just the one painting on your easel. Plein Air Painters could continue to paint. But then there is also the issue of groups of painters, like clubs, taking up street space...

Unknown said...

It's not quite the same, but sketching on an iPad is still an option there, as it wouldn't seem to be covered by the law as they've written it...

Kristopher Battles said...

I painted en plein air in St Augustine back before 2006, when I lived there. For a time I had a studio space on Magnolia Street, right across from the Fountain of Youth. It's a great area to paint in. I don't think the authorities will stop you, if they can see you're not setting up a booth or something, and you're being discreet and focused on painting.

I'd heard they'd rethought their ban on street performers, but I guess I'm wrong. It's a fun tradition in St. Augustine, which I always thought added to the cultural scene.

Karen Bowden said...

In an article by Deanna Ferrante she mentions the St. Augustine ban and Central Florida artist Thomas Thorspecken states his opinion about the new ordinance: http://www.orlandoweekly.com/Blogs/archives/2016/01/14/local-sketch-artist-thomas-thorspecken-says-he-wont-sketch-in-winter-park-anymore-after-city-bans-artists-from-its-sidewalks

My Pen Name said...

"artists" are as much to blame here- as for the 'artist zones' in places like NYC most of what I have seen are fake business selling cheap reproductions, sometimes the seller will pretend its theirs or their spouses, but its obvious they are mass produced prints, very often the artist 'seller' is getting min. wage.

I agree though that banning pleine aire painting is a silly reaction. True artists painting usually add a mystique - and as we all know, it attracts onlookers!