It’s hard to know where to start when discussing the dust-up regarding the LoDa ArtWalk. The whirlpool of histrionics, hearsay and innuendo is moving too fast for its own good thanks to the immediacy of social media.
Let’s begin with full disclosure: I’ve sold books on the sidewalk at ArtWalks past. When I requested the space, the first thing Mobile Arts Council told me was proper licensing was required. When we moved operations to the front of Lunatix & Co., and sold through their register while only inscribing books on the sidewalk, all was kosher and everyone benefited.
As anyone who has read this space in the last five years can attest, I believe the crowds are there neither to support vendors or brick-and-mortar galleries as much as social activity. Mobilians love a gathering and a street party even more so. Gallery owners can attest to low sales during ArtWalk.
The criteria for the event license posted by the Office of Special Events was clear, but verification was needed.
When we talked to department head Ann Rambeau, she declined comment and referred us to the mayor’s office.
Mayoral spokesman George Talbot, in turn only responded to various calls and emails with a copy-and-paste of Mobile Arts Council Director Bob Burnett’s press release. What we were left with was the last public statement by Special Events.
What do I want to know from the mayor’s office?
• If this has been required all along, why has the city not enforced it to this point?
• What was the catalyst that made the city decide to enforce it?
• I’ve heard the presence of vendors in Cathedral Square before the September pep rally for the South Alabama football team had a role in it; is that true?
• I’m assuming the revenue department will now have to pay someone to show up at ArtWalk and check for licenses. Is that so? How much extra cost will that create for the revenue department?
• Will the peddler’s license allow the holder to sell at anytime and anywhere?
• Will vendors be able to set up immediately outside an established business with the business’ permission? If so, does that “sponsorship” mean they aren’t required to have a peddler’s license?
• Could the city offer prorated versions, say seasonal permits of $40 so that it could be more affordable?
Like some of the people quoted in our last issue, I see all sides of this. I understand the desire to display your talent, be it visual, performance, whatever.
I also feel ArtWalk is becoming a morass. I’ll admit I don’t find the buffeting and hubbub optimum for viewing art and some venues are downright claustrophobic. Faced with that, I usually opt out.
What’s to stop aggrieved artists from forming their own collectives? Why can’t they find strength in numbers to open their own spaces?
Innova Arts could provide another solution. They have ample room with what looks to be a couple of acres of privately held empty lot to employ. It could certainly put to test the insistence crowds are following the vendors. The likelihood is that it would at least spread some of the ArtWalk love to other corners of downtown that need it.
That said, I realize the downtown galleries have made a sizable investment in downtown redevelopment and city vitality to a degree “transient merchants” have not. Most of the artists in places like Cathedral Square Gallery and Artology couldn’t afford it on their own either, which is why they put their time and resources into co-ops. They’ve found strength through unity.
You think having a brick-and-mortar business downtown is lucrative? Ask Tracy Host, Susan Kangal, Courtney Matthews, Jim Maurer, Wayne McNeil or Brad Robertson about it. Their establishments have either closed or relocated due to the ardor of maintaining a constant presence in downtown.
You say you want an arts community? Well, you know, you have to have responsibility. Give-and-take is an integral aspect of keeping communities alive and thriving; “your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins” and so on.
The impression gathered by reading a lot of online discussion is some of this is being driven by plain ol’ belligerence. Others seem motivated by adolescent tendencies toward rebuking any attempt at governance or merely sating personal thrills from sown dissension. “I don’t want to and you can’t make me” comes across as their rallying cry.
Then there are those who spend so much energy splitting hairs over things like municipal codes in other towns, they skip the general point: you can’t have a free-for-all without it descending into chaos and ruin. Human history has a few millennia of proof to that end.
I’ve also heard some of those protesting this development complain in the past about “takers” and those who glom off “the system” without adding to it. Why don’t those sentiments apply in this case? Most likely, it’s due to the human tendencies toward hypocrisy.
There’s a compromise in here somewhere but it’s going to take all parties coming to the table with that spirit in mind, not just demanding surrender.