They were all there to comment on a city plan to help galleries and independent artists get along on First Thursday, a night when both groups vie to draw crowds to the neighborhood to see their art. For the past 20 years, galleries have kept their doors open late, and in recent years, independent artists have set up shop outside to show and sell their art on the sidewalk. Earlier this year, the galleries complained that the outdoor market was blocking access to their doors, so the city shifted independent artists north to Occidental Park in July and started crafting a plan to keep the peace. The city's draft plan calls for each independent artist to have a business license, sell only original work, and possibly pay a fee--up to $17 for a 10-foot-by-10-foot space, plus 10 percent of sales--to sell art in Occidental Park during the First Thursday event. Moreover, a "coordinating organization" will run the outdoor market, and make sure the independent artists follow the rules and don't block galleries (an organization called the Workshop is currently running the independent market, and had a hand in drafting the plan).
The city hoped it had found a compromise, but if the Thursday-night public meeting was any indication, there's still a long way to go (a final plan is due out on December 19). Gallery owners are still angry at the city despite the plan, because they don't feel their input--for example, suggestions to move the independent event to a different day--was included. And independent artists are angry at the gallery owners for complaining in the first place ["Last Thursday," Amy Jenniges, June 12] and upset that they may be charged a fee to participate in the revised First Thursday.
Gallery owners, who hold claim to the event they started 20 years ago, want the independent artists to pick a different day to sell their art, to curb the oversize crowds and make way for the galleries' potential clients. "It's about bringing serious clients into our business to establish a relationship. To sell art, we need a serious night once a month to establish those relationships. It's part of our business plans," said one woman who owns a neighborhood gallery. She suggested an "arts and crafts" event on a different Thursday evening, or during the weekend, that could retain the outdoor-market atmosphere without scaring off galleries' clients. Greg Kucera, who owns a self-named gallery, agreed: "I don't want this to become the Fremont Street Fair. There has to be some level of dignity and quality to it. We're asking the city to civilize the event."
Comments like these seem to indicate that the gallery owners--having already won the battle to have the indie artists sequestered to Occidental Park--weren't actually concerned about outdoor vendors blocking access as much as they were concerned about setting an "appropriate" tone for the evening.
Independent artists say they have a right to be in Pioneer Square during First Thursday. Though the meeting only drew a few artists, those artists didn't hesitate to speak up. "It's really clear as business owners that you don't care about art," said Tegan McDonald, taking a jab at the gallery owners. "I think [the independent artists] brought more people down to the Square than you ever did."
Though no artists at the event complained about the fees, an online city message board was sprinkled with complaints about having to pay. "Please do not charge a fee on top of the business license!" one read. "This will result in a high-end, traditional street fair focus, and will discourage cutting-edge independent artists who are crucial in making this scene unique."