Park Ave., Christmas Time by the author (pedestrian safety was in no way threatened during the making of this oil painting).
I always thought that the plot of “Footloose” was a bit far fetched. Why would any town ban music? It turns out that Kevin Bacon’s silly movie about teen rebellion has become the inspiration for a recent ordinance passed by the Winter Park City Commission. Street performers will be banned from performing music on Park Ave. and in the Hannibal Square district along New England. Performers will be allowed to exercise their right of free speech in Central Park, possibly in restricted “First Amendment zones”. Street performers include anyone playing an instrument, actors acting, dancers dancing, visual artists making visual art. Jugglers and mimes beware.
Interpretation of the ordinance may be tricky, and it’s unclear whether poets and novelists writing and photographers shooting pictures will eventually be banned. It may be difficult for the police to decide whether a person stopping for moment to jot down a note or a doodle while standing on a sidewalk along Park Ave. should be ticketed, or whether a tourist taking a snapshot will be wrestled to the ground for performing a visual art form. It is also unclear whether humming and whistling will be met with official hostility.
The stated reason for enacting the ordinance is to maintain safe pedestrian traffic flow in the busy district and to ensure that business doorways are not blocked. Street musicians have been setting up outside of business establishments and playing amplified music on occasion. The ordinance writers decided, for the purpose of maintaining arts suppression neutrality, to include the visual arts in the ban. Plein air painters have set up easels along the streets of Winter Park on rare occasions to paint the views. Painting a cityscape, in the view of the Winter Park elders, is the same as performance art, though the process of making a painting is not considered a performance within the creative world any more than the process of writing a short story is.
The true nature of the objection to the arts invading the shopping district is based more on class than on safety concerns. (Pedestrian traffic is blocked on more occasions by the idle rich standing in clusters in front of high end shops. Diners at tables set up outside of restaurants along the street also provide hazards and delays to walkers attempting to pass by.) Park Ave. caters to the wealthiest subsection of the Central Florida populace, and street performers with open guitar cases distress the immaculate and bejeweled patrons. In the eyes of the wealthy the musicians and caricaturists and balloon animal makers are nothing more than beggars. Art and culture, in their minds apparently, only happen inside galleries, museums, and concert halls. Any form of spontaneous expression occurring within their sphere of influence is unwelcome as it is uncontrolled by the power of their wallets and their “refined” sense of taste.
Some of the put upon rich have complained that the ordinance doesn’t go far enough. They say that allowing performing and visual artists to set up camp in Central Park will destroy the tranquil and family friendly atmosphere of the green space. Some have lamented that the performers are making Park Ave. like Bourbon Street in New Orleans, though no one has ever reported seeing anyone throw beads or lift their blouse in downtown Winter Park. The ideal model for the district, in their minds, is an antiseptic but highly manicured outdoor mall that provides an unaccented backdrop for the display of their wealth.
Winter Park, oddly enough, hosts two annual, outdoor arts festivals that include musical performances. A sidewalk sale is scheduled by the chamber of commerce to coincide with one of them. The city’s walkways are jammed with visitors on both occasions, but apparent safety concerns are put aside for six days of the year as cash flows into the coffers of the shops and restaurants downtown. I wonder, after the passage of this ordinance, whether artists in the upcoming show this spring will be allowed to leave the confines of their booths. They might do arty things along Park Ave. if let out of their cages. Would a portrait painter in the show be fined $500 if he took a sketchbook to a bistro, sat outside and drew passersby? Local artists at any other time of the year will.
Sometime in the early seventies, when conceptual art was dominant in New York, an artist wrote to Art Forum magazine stating that his next bit of creativity would involve thinking the word, “blue”, for twenty minutes on April 11th from noon until 12:20. If he travels to Winter Park and tries that again in the downtown district he better do it on a bench in Central Park…at a location far away from families with children…while keeping an eye out for the cops.