On the first Thursday of every month for the past two decades, Pioneer Square galleries have invited the city down for a special night of art gazing. Plenty of independent artists (along with craft vendors selling things like hemp necklaces, glass pipes, candles, and even toe rings) have jumped onto the First Thursday bandwagon, claiming a red-bricked space each month on Pioneer Square's Occidental Mall, between Jackson and Main Streets, in hopes that gallery-goers will also look at their wares.

But the freewheeling outdoor market may be history by July. On Thursday, June 5, the Pioneer Square Community Association (PSCA) passed out fliers carrying a grim warning: "Due to numerous complaints... the City of Seattle has indicated it will begin enforcement of the municipal codes governing vending in public spaces." Nearby galleries had complained about blocked access to their businesses, and even a few of the indie artists on Occidental had complained about the folks who hawked "non-art" (like toe rings and kitschy Asian imports), which they said violated the "spirit" of First Thursday. Now, at July's First Thursday, artists will need a street-use permit to sell their goods.

That's harsh news for artists who depend on First Thursday to get their work seen and maybe even make a buck. "It's just a great way for artists to get exposed to people, other artists, and get a start," says Amy Stevens, who sold work on Occidental until she was able to afford a Pioneer Square studio.

The PSCA's program manager, Benjamin Nicholls, says he's trying to come up with alternatives for artists, such as getting group permits. "We are working with the city to encourage independent artists to migrate either to Occidental Park or to the secondary area of Occidental Mall," Nicholls says. Both spaces are one block north of the current location.

"I would hate to see artists detracted from selling their work because they had to get a city permit," Stevens says. "Everyone knows it's illegal, but we all just figure that it's only once a month on a special night."


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