2013-08-16 / Front Page

Artists not happy with place at fort

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

CAPE ELIZABETH – Artists and performers who want to sell their work at Fort Williams Park will need to do so under new restrictions approved by the town council, but one couple says the restrictions are in violation of artists’ first amendment rights.

The Cape Elizabeth Town Council approved the new set of rules and regulations for “vending of expressive matter” at its Monday, Aug. 12 meeting by a vote of 6-0, with Councilor Caitlin Jordan absent. The restrictions will limit independent artists to a designated area adjacent to the central parking lot and will cap the number of vendors at eight.

Kris Kristiansen, an artist who lives on Alewife Cove Road, set up in the park in early May, when Kristiansen and his wife Marilyn began displaying and selling his paintings to visitors who stopped by the park.

The Kristiansens say the location they will need to move to is uneven, dusty and inaccessible to visitors with physical disabilities because of curbs that surround the parking lot. However, after a site visit to the park in late July, councilors decided the proposed location is the best area for artists because of its central placement within the park.

“It would certainly generate a lot of foot traffic at that site. It’s not as if we’re placing artists, or anybody intending to sell their works of expression, in an area where they would never see any visitors. To the contrary, that’s where all the visitors who come to see the lighthouse would park and walk by,” said Councilor David Sherman.

This summer, the Kristiansens have been the only independent artists in Fort Williams Park, where they are joined by artists associated with the town’s lighthouse gift shop and various food vendors. However, town officials, councilors and members of the ordinance committee worried artists and street performers could flood the park if rules were not put in place.

The rules drafted by the ordinance committee and town attorney Thomas Leahy of Portland firm Monaghan Leahy say the purpose of the restrictions are “to protect the scenic beauty of the park, preserve landscape and iconic views, and prevent excessive commercialism, congestion and public safety issues.”

However, Marilyn Kristiansen said, There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of interest” in either the discussion or the location among artists and residents. She believes there are other forces at work.

“I don’t really think it’s about making a nice place for artists, I think it’s about keeping them away from the town’s commercial activities, to limit competition,” Kristiansen said.

A 1996, 2nd Circuit ruling established the right of street artists to perform in New York City without restrictions on time or location to protect artists’ first amendment rights, despite the city’s efforts to restrict performances to ease pedestrian flow on city sidewalks. After meeting with Leahy in executive session July 30, councilors felt confident the new regulations protect the first amendment rights of artists in Fort Williams Park.

“I take first amendment rights very, very seriously, and I’m a big advocate of a broad view of first amendment rights. I do think, the way it’s been crafted these are reasonable time, place and manner restrictions,” said Councilor Jamie Wagner, an attorney in Cape Elizabeth.

Marilyn Kristiansen said she plans to be in touch with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, an organization that advocates for individual rights, to explore the possibility of pursuing further legal action.

“We’re law-abiding people, but I don’t think the town has their law right,” Kristiansen said.

For now, the Kristiansens will move to the new site adjacent to the central parking lot for the rest of the season, despite what they see as unfair restrictions.

“If it’s not suitable, it’s not suitable, but we’ll give it a try,” Marilyn Kristiansen said.

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