The city government clarified what was rumored and debated for many months: vendors at Mobile’s monthly LoDa ArtWalks are required to have proper licensing from last week forward. A March 12 press release from Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s office spelled out the process in no uncertain terms.

“The city has required vendors to obtain a peddler’s license since the beginning of ArtWalk, but the city of Mobile Revenue Department and the Mobile Police Department will begin random checks for compliance due to increased participation,” the release said.

It goes on to detail that both business licenses and peddlers’ licenses are required. The second of those is good for a calendar year but prohibits selling in city rights-of-way, parks or an entrance to special events.

A peddler’s license fee is $130 and after July 1, it will be prorated to $105. That includes a $70 nonrefundable sales tax deposit. Additional taxes on annual sales over $1,400 will be due through provided remittance forms.

According to previous conversations with the city of Mobile Revenue Department, a business license begins at $178. Gross revenue charges also apply.

“This community event is experiencing the best problem you could have: overwhelming participation,” Stimpson said in a statement. “Due to increased popularity, the city of Mobile and the Mobile Arts Council have decided on best practices that preserve the artistic integrity of the event while addressing issues that have risen due to increased participation.”

The ArtWalk application process will go through the Mobile Arts Council (MAC) who already performs similar duties for the Market in the Square. Applicants must present proof of their peddler’s license to MAC, then pay a $10 registration fee, $5 for MAC members.

“We have a big map that has a bunch of numbered spaces, I think like 60 of them. You’ll get a space and then a credential on a lanyard and then when you set up, if you’ll just wear that, then they can see it when they decide to enforce it,” MAC Associate Director Charlie Smoke said. Spaces are first-come, first-served.

According to Smoke, those on private property don’t need a peddler’s license or registration with MAC. However, they will need to prove to enforcement personnel they have the property owner’s permission.
The deadline for registration with MAC will be the Wednesday before each ArtWalk.  Those take place the second Friday of each month.
“If they sign up early enough, they will go on the ArtWalk map so it can help them as much as anything. It’s like extra marketing for them,” Smoke said.

This move toward regulation has stirred animosity across the Internet and social media. Many proclaimed it would “kill ArtWalk.”
A foray to the March 13 ArtWalk to gauge the effect was derailed by inclement weather. It made for a poor sampling. April is normally packed so we’ll see.

But the backlash continues nonetheless. In many statements, MAC is being vilified as a chief culprit.

The claims they are putting the squeeze on “the little artists” are preposterous. Every month, MAC features three exhibits, provides publicity, refreshments and space for a wide panoply of artists in this community. Many of them are students, budding artists, or otherwise not widely known.

How much does MAC charge those artists for those opportunities and amenities? Zilch.

Galling, though, is that the city of Mobile would cut MAC’s customary performance contract in half, tell them to expect nothing at all in the following budget, then turn around and ask them to be a de facto city agency and the public face of an unpopular action. To their credit, MAC put previous differences aside.

The city knows what a volatile situation this is. For example, one person posted a Facebook photo of her hand directing an obscene gesture toward her required paperwork with similar harsh invective directed to MAC.

The reality is MAC has tried to be the same force for mediation that has made them valuable to this community. They wanted to be seen as team players. They appreciate what the people at Special Events do, see how hard they work and wanted to help.

They were cagey enough to draw the line at being asked to enforce the code. That should fall to actual city employees.

No one is deciding the value of art but when a loan company attempts to set up shop in the midst of an arts-centric event, arguments about integrity evaporate. And that calls for equity across the board.
This is merely one of the concessions made by responsible adults and those who desire to live in a civilized community. Research has shown other cities to be much more regulatory and that was spelled out in this space in October 2014.  

If you want Barney and Goober unfolding a card table and setting up shop wherever they please, then fine. Just don’t blanche when it draws a portrait of your town as ramshackle or leads to bigger problems.