Saturday, June 26, 2010

Free Speech Loses


The Constitutionally faulty ordinance passed by the St. Augustine City Commission last October was an end run around Federal Judge Marcia Morales Howard's injunction against enforcement towards painters, photographers and sculptors.It illegally prohibits artists from creating, displaying or selling their works on public property (a Constitutionally protected right.) This means little to The City of St. Augustine.Artists have been jailed six times over restictive ordinances in the past three years and dozens of citations have been issued. Not one of these were ever prosecuted and all were vacated as a result of the Federal Judges order.The City of St. Augustine had to pay the artist's attorney fees (as ell as their outside attorney) and damages from taxpayer coffers.

Why do they do this?

One of the answers is this: The city is micromanaging and maintaining control of what they consider their property. As a city official told me regarding the Plaza de la Constitucion, "This is not public property, this is City property". We can write of "shadow governments" and conspiracies and come of as paranoid fringe people but the reality is that there are landlords who chafe at the fact that non rent paying visual artists were showing and selling their wares under the live oaks of the nation's oldest park.These third and fourth generation property owners are so influential that local elected county and circuit judges will ignore Federal case law and prosecute any artist who stands up for their rights. The artists filed in Federal court to override any non constitutional decisions. We were successful. The City administration was not happy and passed an even more draconian, restrictive and illegal ordinance against the visual artists.

At this time

After a challenge from the artists three years ago the city's legal department conceded that a permit fee for visual artists will not stand constitutional scrutiny. The city refunded thousands of dollars to artists who had paid 75 dollars a month in previous years.They also reaffirmed in writing that the Plaza was a public space that visual artists may use to display and sell their works. Time , place and manner rules were made and things went well with no complaints for almost a year. This did not satisfy those important landlords who disposed of  former city attorney who decided, after research, that the artists were correct in their claims . Many fine artists who depended upon the sale of their works as income have left St. Augustine for cities with less restrictive policies and were "artist friendly", recognising that the inclusion of artists is a benefit to their tourist driven economy (the artists here in St. Augustine all had sales tax ID.numbers and filed,usually quarterly)

Artists now must sign up for a lottery for  a space in the Slave Market in the Plaza.At it's worst, there would be three places in the Slave Market for visual artists. The other spaces are designated for crafters and, ridiculously enough, musicians. In the first month a One Man Band was assigned a space ten feet away from the African Drummer amidst the artists and crafters. This lasted one day. Imagine the noise and headaches! No musician has ever returned. The City also used this ordinance to rid the Slave Market of the homeless guys who used it to get the little shade available on public property.. Oh yeah, the city has conveniently ignored their previous policy and now an artist must pay 75 dollars to go into this lottery and submit themselves to be photographed  at City Hall.. A licence is to be worn on the artist's person and it is clearly spelled out identifying the painter as a "street performer". You cannot buy a license as a visual artist. You see, street performers (with the sound and crowd factor) have less constitutional rights as visual artists so the city's solution was to label the artists something other than what they are..

The slave market is located at the eastern end of the Plaza taking up approximately 1/10 of the Plaza. These days most foot traffic is at the opposite end of the Plaza.The remaining artists (two or three) are artists that formerly consistently sold well as most artworks that tourists want are scenes of St. Augustine. General landscapes or "non St.Augustine" artworks come in a distant second to these artworks. The artists there attribute a slow economy and the lack of foot traffic to a reduction of 60 to 70% of their former business.

A Personal Note

Mine is the story of a man who had been in the art and graphics business, but wanted to do something more than design pamphlets and learn new computer skills at at an age when many are retiring from their field.My life took a detour when I went back to my hometown after twenty five years to take care of my ailing father.
After my father's death four years later, I decided that at the age of 55 I would start over and be the "pure artist" that I always wanted to be. Studying up on public space and energized by the street artists I had known in NYC, I filled the gas tank in my father's old beaten up 1990 Cadillac Coupe De Ville, heading South.with my art supplies and an old Rottweiler companion Karl ( I had become a Southerner over the years.) Somewhere in middle Alabama during an horrific thunderstorm I was hit with the fact that I'm not thirty something anymore , not even forty something.that this was a crazy endeavor,but I continued on to New Orleans until Hurricane Katrina diverted me to St. Augustine.Florida.

I have since been jailed four times here in St. Augustine and received twelve tickets and fines for exercising my rights as an artist. To encapsulate my story . Artist's began rallying behind me and I was able, with the help of local attorney Tom Cushman and his assistant Nadine Phelps to get our fight into Federal Court via an expensive "white shoe" law firm out of Jacksonville. There  were so many gaps and restrictions in our ability to sell or display, but I then had a financial cushion to keep up the struggle for the "little guy", the individual artists.

Now, the artists are gone ,winning the battle but you cannot win against a goup that subverts the law for their own agenda..I fought City Hall. I naively believed that the courts would ensure the individuals rights.I see the so called local Arts Groups fighting over who is to get what dollars from the taxpayer pures, I see self interests of the monied people taking precedence over the well settled rights of an individual (Artist's Rights Are Your Rights!) "It's all about the money", says former art gallery owner Mayor Joe Boles. That is an absolute truth , without money an artist cannot create, a newspaper cannot publish and a book cannot be written and distributed.

"Where are the artists?!"," They arrest artist!?". "They  can't do that!"  "You should fight them !".
"This is not right!"

 I've heard the above statements every day I that was out in the elements displaying my artwork. The citizens then go home and forget about it. It doesn't really affect them, they think. I have had a few supporters outside of the artists, who have helped financially.contributing to "the cause" but they have dwindled , many considering it a "lost cause" and that this is proof that you cannot fight City Hall.

Frankly, since my close companion, Karl the Rottweiler died in March at age 14 ( six hundred dollars in vet bills) my heart is not in this any more. I invited artists to come paint on the six easels that I set up last Saturday and no one showed up I was given a 200 dollar ticket for "offering for sale"(not guilty) The next day I set up the six easels throughout the plaza with "No Art" painted on and two people wanted to buy them ( is this a dark comedy or what?!) I gave them away. I now have a criminal record on file, it doesn't matter that the fine print shows that i was not guilty on all charges, it remains on record.

 My stubborn misplaced pride and reaction against bullies kept me here when I should have left almost five years ago.As Officer Walter Wachowski told me then when I first arrived "I'm gonna arrest you! tow your crappy car! impound your dog! and confiscate your art!." (Officer Simpson as witness) It came to pass four times...Karl my dog was with me all the way.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Invite Placido Domingo Now!

The 450th Committee and the City Commission keep wondering who to invite as VIP's to the celebration of the City of St. Augustine's 450th year of continuous European occupation. This will be in five years. The Ca Pope's name keeps coming up since the Mayor of our town has the mistaken belief that this was the birthplace of Christianity in the New World.Face it.....the German born Pope is not coming fellas.

Let's look at a man who was born in Madrid and came to Mexico (part of the New World, Mr, Mayor) as a young boy. Imagine the Flagler auditorium filled to capacity with Senor Domingo doing the "I Pagliacci" aria. The swells in town will pay good money to see this. Senor Domingo is a consummate fundraiser, instrumental in raising over 700, 000 dollars for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.and a huge benefit for the Mexican earthquake victims

Placido Domingo is currently the General Director of the Washington National Opera in Washington, D.C. and the Los Angeles Opera in California.He is now recovering from colon surgery in March but insists that he will be returning to the stage soon. He is fond of saying,"If I rest, I rust" He is 69 years old.

Spain , particularly the Catalan region where Placido's father was born, has given us a wealth of art.(Picasso, Miro, Dali) Here is one man who embodies the migration from Europe to the "New World".

We also think that City official (Chief Planner or some such title) Mark Knight should dress up as Don Quixote during the festivities.Erroll Jones can be Sancho Panza.. That's a street performance we would like to see.

Ruth Hunter

Former St. Augustine Street artist Ruth Hunter left St. Augustine some time back is now doing well painting and doing her workshops in Savannah Georgia.She knows first hand about the illegitimate laws in St. Augustine that prevent artists from exercising their rights..We love her work . Take a look yourself.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Charles Dickinson

We congratulate Charles Dickinson for winning the Emmett Fritz Award for Best Oil Painting. The award was given by the St. Augustine Art Association at the 2010 Honors show.

Charlie will be in Southwest  Harbor Maine as guest artist at the Salty Dog Gallery for a good part of July.His wife painter Debbie Boon will also be there They might run into fellow Art In The Market artists Elizabeth Harris and Richard Childs who are on a painting vacation in Bar Harbor, Maine.

We were excited to hear from Artist Scott Raimondo telling us that will be vacationing in the Isle of Capri next month..Excited that is ,until we found out that's what he has named the inflatable pool in his backyard,."The Isle of Capri".

Women We Love

"Rich fellas come up an' they die, an' their kids ain't no good an' they die out. But we keep a'comin'. We're the people that live. They can't wipe us out; they can't lick us. We'll go on forever, Pa, 'cause we're the people."  Ma Joad , The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Word Art

On Sunday from 10am to 9 Pm the Plaza had eight of these "artworks" scattered throughout. The message is clear. For some reason this display was ignored by the authorities. Could it be the city hall boys simply do not care for my artworks,cause yesterday I received a ticket for the same thing except my artwork was on the easel. Art is a universal language. A photo or painting carries a message just as well as this graffiti. A non English reading person can "get" the painting before he can comprehend a written description of that painting. This statement is repeated in most free speech/ art/ first amendment cases.Here is part of a decision affirming visual artist's full First Amendment rights

"Chinese characters are both narrative and pictorial representations. Nahuatl, a language used by Aztec peoples in Central America, also incorporates pictures in its written language. Visual artwork is as much an embodiment of the artist's expression as is a written text, and the two cannot always be readily distinguished."
Here is part of the "law "unanimously passed by the St. Augustine City Commission last September.

Prohibited in the Plaza de la Constitucion, St, George Street (and fifty feet on either side), Anderson Circle, Ponce de Leon Circle, Loring Park and all streets directly adjacent to the aforementioned locations................"artistry or the creation of visual art and wares, which includes drawings or paintings applied to paper, cardboard, canvas, cloth or to other similar medium when such art is applied to the medium through the use of brush, pastel, crayon, pencil, spray or other similar object."

Yesterday, I spoke to an artist who pays 1200 dollars a month to set up his easel and a print rack in an indent space in front of a retail jewelry store. "Yeah, but when an artist collects money he becomes a vendor right?"

My answer to him was twofold. 1. An artist should learn the law and what his rights are 2. I quoted a Federal case (I know it by heart) ""It is well settled that a speaker's rights are not lost merely because compensation is received; a speaker is no less a speaker because he or she is paid to speak." Riley v. Natl Fed'n of Blind of North Carolina.

For those who cannot equate speech with pictures and paintings , my word message is this, and no offense is intended: Though this is a simple statement, it is too abstract for those whose linear thinking abruptly stops and fragmented thinking takes over. This is our City Commission.

It is not illegal for artists to display and offer their work for sale on public property. It is not illegal for artists to set paint a picture on public property.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

High Crimes

Officer Tyus mesmerized by Suvo's Art

Yesterday at 1:20 pm, I had just set up some easels to do some embellishments on a group of prints recently made.Officer Tyus approached with his ticket book in hand. I noticed that the ticket on the pad was already filled out. If you already have your name in file, there is no waiting, how convenient! Unfortunately. the charge on the ticket was for displaying and "offering for sale" my artwork.When I asked Officer Tyus whether he saw prices on these works and showed him my pallet and brushes he said no he didn't see prices and then told me something that confirmed my opinion that the City of St. Augustine will blatantly violate the law to violate the civil rights of it's citizens. I'll reserve quoting here until we get an affidavit from a witness and after I have transferred the digital recording to a disc.

I will say this regarding "offer for sale". Officer Tyus did not see prices on the work and he was the first person I spoke to after setting up, the citation having been written in advance begs the question, When was an offer for sale made and who made the complaint? There must be a citizen complaint or witness to the offense.

Only one artist, J. D. , a photographer, formerly of Fox News came for a little while and set up his tripod to take a few pictures.

Today, I will have six  blank canvases on display as a protest to the City of St. Augustine's adversarial attitude to the visual artists. No one would want to by a blank canvas, or would they? (google Robert Ryman)

Perhaps the sprawling "hobo picnic"* of eleven men and one woman will once again be held twenty feet away from me. When one of the guys came to me as I was talking to someone else, he interrupted and insisted on shaking my hand. When I ignored his rudeness he went to his companions and told them he was going to "slap me". Oh! Karl the Rottweiler would've loved that if he were still with us ! He really disliked skinny guys in tank tops.

* Anyone has a right to recline about a public park. It's when the Saturday night exuberance starts that the tourists get a bit distressed with the language and potential violence.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Did this Guy Murder Bill Mack?

Who the heck is this Guy?

Back in 1990 Bill Mack sculptures were all the rage with celebrity collectors. Oliver Stone's film "Wall Street from three years before used Mack's bas relief nudes to decorate the set walls of Gordon Gekko's plush office. Sometimes this is all you need to get a career to shoot upward, not museum purchases or serious critical revue. Mack's nudes are the prototypical perfect woman , lithe, leggy and nude.Playboy stuff. One work entitled "Enigma" could have the title "Girl in a Box." His works are a plasticine type of mixture sometimes with bronze powder added to give it the illusion of heavy mass. If it were bronze solid you would not have a wall to hold it much less the forklift to move it around.Bill Mack is making his yearly visit to St Augustine for a two day meet and greet at the Cutter Galleries. Either Bill Mack the sculptor will be here or someone with that name, that is.Read on. 

Previously we wrote about the troubles that dealers were having with Thomas Kinkad (Painter of Light tm) .The art world ,or rather the faux art, resort gallery industry has as much smoke and mirrors as does the so called high end fine art galleries in NYC or Paris.The Art Expo to the trade in April every year at the Javits Center offers up all of the latest child prodigies, ape paintings, more jumping whales, dead cartoonists reprints etc. Anything that is novel to get potential customers into the gallery.You'll find Bill Mack there.Interestingly you'll not find his birth date on any of his biographies.

The Bill Mack people have done something that I've never heard of. They have replaced the Bill Mack that I knew  back in 1990 with another Bill Mack. The original Bill Mack would be at least 65 years old. Does the guy in the picture above look 65? Three years ago I encountered the fake Bill Mack in front the Love's Gallery prior to a show and mentioned some mutual acquaintances and he faked it through an awkward conversation. He had the rose boutonniere, and the handle bar mustache but he was much shorter and considerably younger. Apparently, Bill Mack (who was featured on the TV show "Lifestyles of The Rich and Famous" )has decided to stay home in Minneapolis and send out this , possibly his son, to do public appearances.. Of course those gated community purchasers of his work get a photo of him next to their expensive purchase thinking that they are in the company of the artist.

Smoke and Mirrors or outright fraud? Tonight and tomorrow for his exhibit.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

As New York Goes, So Goes.......

This ugly scene may soon be in NYC's Union Square
Restauranteur Danny Meyer is an important fellow...he is a personal friend of NYC's Mayor Bloomberg and is the co chair of the Business Improvement District (BID) the Union Square Economic Development Corporation , a group planning a restaurant on the public property of Union Square.The above picture is his food stand on the public property of Madison Square Park.  State Assemblywoman Deborah Glick is making noise: “In neighborhoods like Union Square which are starved for green space but already overwhelmed by dining choices, it is terrible public policy to continue to transform municipal parkland into a commercial engine.”

Our artist activist in NYC, Robert Lederman , pres. A.R.T.I.S.T (Artist's Response To Illegal State Tactics) tells us that a recent city report shows that "You get to the real deal about why the city wants street artists eliminated from it's parks. It's all about real estate values.They want more special events, concessions, Greenmarkets and revenue producing things - at the cost of free speech"

In plain language, the Bloomberg Administration is giving away park space to the highest bidder.

Painter of Dreck

Thomas Kinkade (The Painter of Light tm) is having troubles in addition to his bankruptcy and lawsuits over fraud. We have a Thomas Kinkade gallery here in St. Augustine and everyday tourists are buying cheap paper prints for five hundred dollars or prints on canvas for up to $5000 .His subtrefuge and outright lies are coming home to roost. Here is an article that discusses his art in more depth than it deserves.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

We Hear Things

Actual Things Heard in the Nation's Oldest Park

The Old Philosopher

Old Guy: "You know what your problem is?"
Suvo: No, what?
Old Guy: You don't ask the right questions.
Suvo: What do you mean?
Old Guy:: That's what I mean.
Suvo: Waddya mean, that's what you mean.?
Old Guy: You don't ask the right questions.
Suvo: Regarding what? Can you give me an example?
Old Guy: It's just that you don't ask the right questions:
Suvo: Meaning in what context?
Old Guy: When it comes to questions, the right ones you do not ask
Suvo: What the goddamn hell are you talking about?
Old Guy: I think that I just proved my point.
Suvo: Here's a question. Would you get the hell away from me?

Just Do It
Grossly obese 30 something in a wifebeater shirt talking on his cell phone:

"Hey! I need you to pick up a friend of mine"
"Waddya mean you can't !. It's only a coupla miles away. He needs  to get to Robbie's house."
"Crap, you been sittin' on your ass all day watchin TV".
Gas money Hell! It's only a few miles I told ya. You can do it !. Here's the address.
He click's off the phone and yells over to his equally obese girlfriend
"It's ok, Grandma is gonna go pick him up and drop him off at Robbie's."

Ship Of Little People
Tour Train Driver: "That is a statue of Ponce de Leon. He was only 4'7".
He was the tallest man on the ship. It was Admiralty Law that no one could be taller than the captain."

If It Were a Snake
Tourist" "Could you tell me where is the Bridge of Lions"
Artist:: "Right there ....pointing to the bridge, 75  feet away"

Nosy Guy
Tourist: "Do you guys make a lot of money doin this?"
Artist::" Things have been kinda slow here lately"
Tourist: "About how much do you make on an average day?"
Artist: "Are you asking me how much money I make?"
Tourist: "Yeah, On the average".
Artist: "Why would I tell you that?"
Tourist: "Just curious"
Artist: "I think that it is strange for you to ask me that. What if I asked you how much you made".
Tourist: "I'll tell you ...Last month I took home.....".
Artist: interrupting...."Look, I don't want to know your income, that's personal."
Tourist: "I don't mind."
Artist: "Well I do mind, I gotta go over here now".....moving away to another artist's stand.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Recent Report

      Suvo under surveillance
A recent (and expensive) tourism study commissioned by St. Johns County made many suggestions regarding how to increase the "visitor experience" for St. Augustine and it's environs. Many items were covered including insistence upon historical accuracy (Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse?) development of undeserved history (African American Freedom Trail) and further utililization of the Arts and cultural resources. We'll address the last one and use some quotes from the report.Of the summarised eleven recommendations three of them are regarding Art in St. Johns County. We have left out any reference to the "cultural" since recent local news stories regarding use of governmental monies shows that many have differing views on the definition of cultural (sociological?,anthropological?,history? arts?)

From the report: 
#5  Eliminate any downtown ordinances that might hamper cultural arts development such as length of performances inability to show artists at work, spontaneous performances etc.

#6  Iincubate artists and use their presence as a neighborhood economic engine.

#7  Promote better communication among arts groups within the destination.

Conclusion in summary:      "Eliminate downtown ordinances that hamper arts........Costing nothing to execute, this will have little direct impact upon visitation, but will be a major asset to building brand equity as an arts and culture destination."

#5 We like the word "any" in this statement. Since no one from the Magellan Group (the hired report group) had queried any artists from our group we must assume that these conclusions were drawn from the general public polls. (methodology here) Regional plein air "paint outs " have diverted from picturesque downtown St. Augustine since the passage of a recent ordinance making it illegal (100 dollar fine) to set up an easel and paint in most of the historic district. Does anybody reading this recognize a blatantly illegal ordinance? This indicates the adversarial relationship with outdoor artists that the City of St.Augustine fosters. This needs to stop.

#6 Reading this point we have a knee jerk reaction to the word "incubate" fearing that it might be misread as "isolate". we have already been isolated to six spaces in the slave Market, photographed and charged 75 dollars to wear a badge that identifies us as a "street performer".not artist.

#7 In response to this and the above "incubate" statement, many of us with Art In The Market believe that the less government is involved in the Arts, the more we have artistic freedom.We ask for no special studios, low interest loans, incubation (whatever that is!) or a set aside arts district. Simple reasonable time, place and manner restrictions make sense, stressing the word reasonable as opposed to arbitrary and capricious rules that are designed to illegally restrict First Amendment activity.We can see here in St. Johns County a scramble among diverse arts groups with their 501 3c status, scrambling for the government dollar, your dollars.We ask for nothing more than our established First Amendment rights with clear sensible "rules".