San Francisco Street Artists to Celebrate Anniversary of Going Legit

Back in the 1970s, some 600 artists banded together and took their cause to City Hall, clearing the way for the San Francisco arts commission to create the first street artist licensing program.

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    On Saturday, San Francisco will mark the 40th anniversary of the street artist licensing program with a celebration in Justin Herman Plaza NBC Bay Area's Joe Rosato Jr. reports. (Published Friday, Jun 29, 2012)

    There are certainly times when one has viewed a piece of bad art, only to mutter its creator should be arrested. But back in the early 1970s in San Francisco, police were arresting dozens of artists -- deserving or not. Their crime: illegally selling art.

    "There were massive arrests of artists in the Union Square area and at Fisherman’s Wharf," said Howard Lazar who runs San Francisco’s Street Arts Program.

    Lazar said back then, artists asked the police department to issue peddler permits so they could legally sell art in the streets. But the police refused.

    So some 600 artists banded together and took their cause to City Hall. The Board Of Supervisors and Mayor Joseph Alioto, cleared the way for the city’s arts commission to create the first street artist licensing program.

    "They make it themselves, they sell it themselves and there’s no middle man involved," said Lazar, who’s run the program since it began in 1972.A San Francisco take on ship in a bottle crafts.

    The program offers some 350 spots in Justin Herman Plaza, The Cliff House, Union Square and parts of Fisherman’s Wharf.  Every day, up to 200 artists sell homemade crafts like paintings, jewelry, carved wood and clothing.

    The license requires artists to make their creations themselves. During the license audition, the artists have to actually make a piece of art in front of a judging panel.

    "Even though it doesn’t guarantee you a job, it gives you an outlet and a place to work," said jewelry maker Tad Sky, who’s had a permit since 1974.

    On Saturday, San Francisco will mark the 40th anniversary of the program with a celebration in Justin Herman Plaza from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 150 artists are expected to set-up shop with crafts ranging from t-shirts to paintings to handmade shoes.

    Lazar said at its core, the program is about the art of opportunity.

    "One word… survival," Lazar said. "Everything else is just icing on the cake. But these people for me have demonstrated survival."

    Jewelry maker Tad Sky has had a street artist license in San Francisco since 1974.