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.


  1. I'm really sorry to hear the outcome of the fight to keep art on the streets of St. Augustine. It's hard to accept that artist's having civil rights is nothing more than fantasy. Falling on the sword for a cause is always done in the end alone and it's painful...for the record Greg I think your effort was remarkable and the years I had creating and painting in the park were wonderful..thank you for the effort....

  2. Anonymous26 June, 2010

    Following it and doing something about it are two different things.

  3. Anonymous27 June, 2010

    Have you thought about going back to New York? I"m sure they would treat you better there. Your kind of art might really take off in that creative atmosphere! You have so much energy why waste it on Saint Augustine!

  4. Anonymous28 June, 2010

    Everyone loves a martyr. (John Desanto is a much better martyr figure for the local public artist scene.) And not to make Greg feel worse, but for the sake of the local artists, perhaps he should have kept on going down the road.

    An alternative view of Greg's impact in St. Augustine in five eras:

    The "Art in the Plaza" Era--before Greg blows into town, artists of EVERY kind sell in the Plaza for a pittance fee. Local artists make a living.

    "Some Artists Are More Equal Than Other Artists" Era--Greg complains to City that he (as a painter) and other painters, photographers, printers and sculptors should not be charged a fee and should be treated differently than others. City subscribes to Greg's suggestion. Local painters, photographers, printers and sculptors get refunds from City and flak from those who don't get refunds.

    "Who Dare Define Art" Era--Greg spearheads challenge to City for subscribing to treating painters, photographers, printers and sculptors differently than others. Some local painters wonder and worry.

    "All Or Nothing" Era--City gets out of the business of trying to define art. Greg spearheads move to eliminate "time, place, manner" regulation of protected activity.


    "Art in the Market" Era--only a handful of artists can pay a larger sum of money to operate in covered old slave market.

    Strange how Greg named his movement "Art in the Market"--like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  5. Greg Travous28 June, 2010

    In response to the last comment:

    Yes, I regret that the post does have a "poor me" aspect to it, but frankly look at me as representing ALL artists in the same position fighting for our rights.

    Artists were being charged over 1000 dollars a year for "permits" that the Federal Courts had previously affirmed as illegal.

    "Some artists are more equal than others?" The courts have also determined that prints, paintings and sculpture carry full first amendment protection.Not so with jewelry, potholders and household items.

    No one ever suggested eliminating time place and manner authority. The key word is "reasonable time, p and m". Establish reasonable rules and most
    Importantly......enforce them.

    "Only a handful of artists can afford to pay a larger sum of money." This may be true especially if you call a handful ,two artists. If you do not see a blatant rights violation here (only profitable art can be shown) then we are miles apart in our interpretation of civil rights.If a 12 year old artist wants to display and sell her work on one Saturday a month, she should not be photographed at City Hall and charged 75 dollars to do so.

    The Art In The Market logo and tag was established years before my arrival in St. Augustine....and yes, that is a strange coincidence.

  6. Artist who left town28 June, 2010

    Let me ask the city employee who wrote earlier.

    The courts have said that you cannot charge a fee for first amendment activity..... the city recognized this refunded all a few years past.

    Now the city is charging a fee once again charging a fee and why........because Greg took this thing to Federal Court and won? So the fee is a punative action against the artists for standing p for their rights?

    Also, I know of not one artist who, informed of the situation who did not support Greg.If there were artists against Greg's actions they were to timid to voice themselves.

  7. Richard Childs01 July, 2010

    The public should know: In the course of life there are only a few individuals and only a few individuals with courage--the courage to face a power structure that protects their own self interest over individual rights with the help of local politicians and the police department.

    Suvo, a St. Augustine artist, faced this power structure demanding the Constitutional rights of all artists. Yet, even though the Federal Court ruled that paintings are free speech and artists--like newspapers--have a right to show and subsist, Suvo was arrested and thrown in jail for selling his paintings. Although, specifically, the Federal 3rd District Court of Appeal ruled that St. Augustine must allow painters the right to sell in the Plaza de la Constitucion, Suvo was sited again.

    What are the consequences of individuals with courage facing a corrupt power structure?

    *Even though all charges against Suvo were civil disobedience and not criminal charges, and in court all charges against Suvo were dropped, the arrests are not erased from his record. Try to get a job with arrest marks on your record.
    *Spending time in jail for selling his paintings has had its physical costs. Suvo's health has suffered. (He is not a young man.)
    *Spending his own money to get access to the law has left Suvo destitute.
    *The town politicians and police want revenge and harass Suvo continuously.
    *His own colleagues have abandoned him by indifference.

    Let this be a warning to all "individuals" in the USA. This could happen to you.

    Landlord politicians can soak retailers with high rents. The cooperations will let you buy an AK47 with armor piercing bullets. But don't sell your painting in the Plaza de la Constitucion.

    People like Henry David Thoreau, Rosa Parks, and Suvo suffer the consequences, but we the timid benefit by their courage.

    R.Childs, President of the United States Street Artist Union

    P.S. Proud to know Suvo and to call him my colleague.

  8. Elizabeth's Studio01 July, 2010

    Gregorio: I miss you and the days in the Plaza. As an artist,I miss your enthusiasm and support. Most of all, I miss your humor. Thank you for everything.

    Your friend,
    Elizabeth Harris

  9. It is sad to read how freedom has been defeated in St. Augustine. America has slipped into a moral decline. The First Amendment is not respected. The police and local authorities hold no respect for the citizen and the Federal Government is controlled by corporations, many of which are international, who are masquerading as humans under the law.

    If the best we can hope for is for this nation to fail so we can start over then this is a sad day.

    I for one will continue to use art in Chicago to resist to the end. Being smart about the struggle means resisting at a level that can be sustained. That is why I have designed the Art Patch Project to continue to build on public awareness over time. Time is a monster that no-one controls. Ideas can not be killed or jailed.

    The idea of your rebellion lives on even after your efforts are defeated. The ideas you fought for are noble. I salute you and continue to support your ideas. Small people die leaving behind not a shred of thought as a memory. You left behind a legacy. Yours was a battle - not a war. The war goes on. This is a national issue. The fight continues.

  10. Anonymous07 July, 2010

    Doing art is work,selling it is art.

  11. Norman,
    No matter what your beef is with Greg, you are no less of a criminal for posting someone's SSN for all to see...shame on you.

  12. bactoHey Norman,you are way off base.I don't know what's got you carrying such a grudge but Greg Travous has been doing honorable community service in St Augustine and keeping some humor afloat about the whole situation.Why don't you give him a call.He does have friends and a cultural calling.You might even end up not angry at him.

  13. Has anyone actually seen Suvo draw?

  14. I'm no fan of Greg, particularly his layman misapprehension of First Amendment jurisprudence. Picking on Greg's criminal history, self-defeating tactics or overly developed "rebel without a pause" persona is fair game. But bringing up family or his SSN is beyond dirty pool!

  15. "Norman", whoever you are, yu are a small man indeed. I have known Greg for some time, and as others who know him as well probably think, I seriously doubt your accusations. Do you offer any proof of your slander?

  16. I've seen his Florida arrest record. Norman demonstrates credibility regarding the Florida matters. Yeah. Greg had some problems in Monroe County. Don't know about the Hawaii, Illinois, or Elaine.

    Once when Greg was boasting in this forum about his numerous arrests in St. Augustine, someone brought up his previous encounters with the law prior to his coming to town. Greg didn't deny anything, he simply refocused the attention on his "Artyrdom" arrests.

  17. Florida's manifest jurisprudence is a slap in the face to all but the wealthy.Idealism be damned.Culture be damned.I'm amazed that Greg even took on the fight.Arrest records have a way of multiplying by the same accusation causing rearrests.No convictions,no facts.Business is dirty on every level.We all get done dirty in the name of business as usual.'rebel without a pause'?Sounds like some one who's never faced oppresion or a First amendmant litigant who is practiced at keeping the poor down.Yes it's a fight and it will continue as long as corporate greed curtails individual freedom and as long as 'land of the free and home of the brave' are the last two phrases of the first verse of the national anthem.You are saying forget the message and kill the messenger.Come on convince me.

  18. I haven't seen Greg lately. Did he leave town?

  19. He's still here painting not "drawing".

  20. Two years ago I screwed up courage to sell my art in the park in St.Augustine.Gregory was the friendliest and most helpful person there.He brought customers to my display and he let me walk the wonderful Carl.When I told him that I didn't sell anything, he bought one of my small pieces insisting that he intended to when he saw it earlier.Everybody seemed to like him and know him and his dog.I never went out there again (it was draining)and have since moved away but I will do it again in Boston where I now live (and it's legal) cause Gregory told me it was good stuff.Thank you Gregory

  21. I'm not really sure where we all come from, but in the park we were all in a way desperate and hungry....we shared that each and every one and Greg was one of us and we produced art...for the most part it was original least for me it was and I got to paint and share my thoughts and laugh and most important I felt like I counted for this was a good thing I thought and I was proud to be a part of the art movement in the park that represented that first commitment to art that represents the birth of art for any community...what a loss it is for all of us who call St Augustine home.....I'm not sure how well we were represented but I do know the birth of new artists in St Augustine is at a end.....and that is what really counts here!!!!

  22. I was displaying my art last night (August First Friday Art Walk)...and someone came by and told me he was running for City Comissioner. He gave me some literature. He is obviously a serious candiate. He said he would work to protect rights of artists. He said otherwise I would have to pay the mob boss.