Tuesday, March 01, 2011

An Open Letter to The City of St. Augustine

Peter Guinta's article in today's St. Augustine Record headlined as City: Fairness Vital In Carriage Ordinance quoted Commissioner Bill Leary as saying "Tourists love our carriages. The fundamental thing that sticks in my craw was: This is not how we should treat people." referencing ordinance rules that would drive them out of business." Vice Mayor Leanna Freeman said she also had "an unsettling feeling of unfairness" about the first drafts of the ordinance.

As outdoor artist/vendors we support the Carriages and their drivers. The horses seem healthy and it appears that they are given good care. The carriage rides have been around since Henry Flagler opened his hotels in the 1880's.We would like to see the Carriage industry succeed in the ancient city.

It's easy to draw parallels with the Carriage business in this city and the artist's who sell their works in public space.

Henry Flagler invited artists to this city as a cultural enhancement to the tourist experience .Robert Torcia's book,The Lost Colony illustrates how the city nearly became known as a well known artist's colony. It never came to pass because, as Torcia writes that by 1950,

" Motivated largely by self-interest, St. Augustine's business community generously supported the pragmatic values and aesthetic conservatism began to stifle creativity".We artists a have been at a loss to know just who is the driving force putting the vendors out of business under the color of unconstitutional ordinances.

Unlike the carriage companies who provide a service, we are all registered to collect and forward state sales tax on the artwork sold, There is a misconception that we do not comply. We display our tax certificates.

There is a misconception that alternative spaces are available, other than the 1.The prohibited 120 ft. wide five block swath down the length of the historic Districts HP 2 and Hp3 2.Loring Park and surrounding cross streets, 2. Anderson Circle 3. The Plaza De La Constitucion and all surrounding cross streets.The truth is that most of the remaining streets are in neighborhoods, Flagler property or are unsafe for pedestrian passage. The Plaza as Federal Courts have determined is a park that is not only the quintessential forum for free speech but it is the safest public space to display and sell our art.

Though a license scheme for artists has been well settled as unconstitutional ( the city had refunded thousands of dollars in fees as the result of a challenge) it has been illegally re instituted at 75 dollars a month or 900 dollars annually to stay in one 10 x 10 spot in the slave market. A carriage that utilizes city utilities and travels the streets of the city pays now 50 dollars a year but would be 1000 dollars a year under the proposed ordinance.

The current ordinance prohibits an artist from setting up an easel and doing a painting in the "prohibited area" We are told that it is not being enforced so....why is it there and why did four current commissioners vote for this after it was pointed out to them?

The lottery for spaces is a farce...the rules ridiculous and the police have told us that the licensing is not being enforced.No one will wear the photograph that identifies them as a "street performer".

Four of the current Commissioners voted by resolution in Dec 2009 to declare all property around the parking garage and The Visitor Information Center as no longer public property but is now "City proprietary property". Illegal doublespeak here. The city will claim that this is an acceptable alternative and foster a flea market with absolutely no rules and later declare it as not public property after they utilized the alternative claim in court. The same thing was done when St. George Street was prohibited but the Plaza was held up as a viable alternative. Now the Plaza has been banned for artistic activity.

Mayor Boles has said that he does not want the artists taking up space when a day of celebration is had in 2012 for the Spanish Consitutional Monument. Why not ask us to not set up on special event days, if it interferes with the event? This was the way it was handled in the past with no problems. Grass problems? A revolving location was worked out in years past with no problem.

We have requested numerous times to be able to sit down with city administrators to work out a constitutionally viable ordinance that respects first amendment rights. We have never received the courtesy of a response. It was felt that our new City Manager Mr. Regan would put aside the adversarial attitude of the former City Manager Harriss. We are disappointed.

First amendment activity occurs almost every weekend with Christian or Krishna Consciousness devotees playing music and using megaphones. Our activites as artists has no less first Amendment protection as they do. Thre courts recognize that charging for a first amendment protected item does not remove or diminish First Amendment Rights. There are over eight newspaper vending machine in the Plaza area alone. These are protected just as our art is protected.

Your city attorney's argument that County Judge Tinlin said none or all must be permitted is just plain untrue and would make no logical sense when the first amendment is applied. That same attorney will tell you that Federal Judge Marcia Morales Howard declared the previous ordinance invalid. She did not...she simply stated that it cannot be enforced against visual artists. Merchandise that is not First Amendment protected had already been banned in the ordinance . That's when the city opened up the Plaza to all sorts of merchandizing creating an unregulated situation that they later said needed control , though they actually fostered the chaos.

So Commisioners Leary and Freeman,your statements on unfairness and how to treat people ring false to me. I have never seen a flea market vendor jailed for being on public property nor has a carriage owner been jailed. The City has put the street artists out of business illegally. Three of the artists who remain in the shadows are struggling They have been selling their art outside in St. Augustine for a total of 36 years between them. I can assure you that world wide more people know these artists and their artworks than any other artist in this city. Yes,Commissioner Leary, the tourists love the carriages and they also love the artists. They tell us this every time we are out there.

Next week the city is once again pursuing three of six criminal charges against me for being in the Plaza with my art. These are illegal charges but I have found that as a defendant in a county court I cannot expect constitutionally sound decisions. Regardless of the Court's findings. I will continue to to display and sell my art in the Nation's oldest park as long as I am able.

How about you? Will you continue to disregard the plight of taxpaying entrepeneur artists who ask for nothing but the recognition of their rights?

Gregory Travous aka Suvo

Member at large: The Graphic Artist's Guild (AFLCIO affiliated)
The Florida Artist's Registry
The International Registry of Artists and Artworks
The American Society of Portrait Artists


  1. Bravo Suvo.....We need you in Chicago!

  2. People and some police and commissioners do not respect the Federal court ruling in artists favor. To them it is just a joke