Sunday, July 26, 2009

Thoughts From A So Called "Homeless*" Artist

St. Augustine, Florida the nation's oldest continually European occupied city is unique in so many respects that many times the differences are ignored. History aside, let's not forget that it is a "living city".The tag "City" is a bit misleading. With a population of 13,ooo, we can alternate the word "town"without using the arbitrary legal distinctions. St. Augustine always stood out historically here on the"First Coast"both economically and administrationwise. I hear the city fathers cite comparisons with Colonial Williamsburg Virginia, a 300 acre "open air museum" developed in 1927 with the help of the Rockefeller Foundation. Standard Oil monies ( Rockerfeller's and Flagler's)then became one of the common denominators between Williamsburg and St. Augustine. The differences between the two Colonial towns are striking in that the Colonial Williamsburg has always been on privately controlled property. Colonial Williamsburg can implement programs that just would not be workable in a "living city". The administration of City of St. Augustine seems sometimes to have an "inferiority complex" by looking toward other cities codes ( Key West in particular) for duplication. "Let's not reinvent the wheel", could be the slogan of this city manager and his rubber stamp commissioners.

We street vendor artists have been going through a difficult and sometimes daunting legal battle with the city over constitutional rights. It would certainly not be an issue if a modern day Henry Flagler simply purchased the town, or maybe this has happened and we didn't notice it. It would be naive to deny that in city governments there is usually a chummy relationship with the large property owners and employers. People play golf, socialize, share inside info...that's the way of the world. Have your water bills waived....take home a stapler....I don't care. Citizens get upset when no bid contracts are doled out without public disclosure. They resent it when police powers are used to stifle protected Constitutional rights. This is followed up with paying outside legal counsel almost 100,000 to lose a Federal court case to artists. This is not your money!

The solution to avoid these situations would be to "privatize" formerly public properties and services. Be aware readers, this is on the horizon. Our County Commission expects the St. John's Public Libraries to
"pay for themselves". My dog and I were evicted from Beale Street in Memphis Tennessee because the Business Improvement District did not permit artists painting or dogs, even on a leash. Two uniformed (not police) twenty somethings escorted Karl and I one block over where the winos habituated.

I'm sure that here in St. Augustine are there are those already soliciting corporate donations for our 450th anniversary fandango. Certain benefits for the sponsor come with this. If we are not careful these benefits could lead to privatization. The corporate motive is rarely altruistic.

I'm of the view that certain parts of the social and governmental terrain should remain closed to market forces in order to protect them from the unpredictability and ruthlessness of the market (such as private prisons, basic health care, and basic education). Some of the utilities which government provides benefit society at large and are indirect and difficult to measure or unable to produce a profit, such as defense.

By the way city leaders, Key West......Leasing out the wharf for "sunset celebration" is "privatization". This is perfectly legitimate for mercantile vendors........not for visual artists. They are in jeopardy of a civil rights trial brought by visual artists. This should not be your model.

A final note to the city.............Your agreement to make the injunction that the artists won permanent, is disingenuous if you create another ordinance that basically continues to violate our hard won rights. Also....stop waffling on paying our lost.
*"My home is not a place, it is people."
Lois McMaster Bujold

1 comment: