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Public space off limits to the public?

 Posted: 2:00 AM July 09, 2014

The personally marked off spaces before the Fourth of July parade highlighted a concern for me about what is happening in Ashland, which is a greater trend around the country and world. We are watching our public space being grabbed up, put off limits and over-regulated for more private interests. Although homeless people are not allowed an inch of public space to sleep on, or residents or travelers are not allowed to sell their hand-made goods in public within city limits, people are able to claim certain parts of the sidewalk for their own personal enjoyment.

Ashland, to me, is a town of art and culture, and I am disappointed to see that City Council has decided to ban selling of art on the streets. The only option is to try to get into the Lithia Artisan market. Enter the art police. My handmade colorful scarves were judged and found wanting, although they were quite popular when I sold on the streets before I was told I couldn't. I got nothing but good feedback and enthusiasm from locals and tourists alike.

I had other locals ask about selling because they want to sell their art, but can't find a way to do it. I have a local friend who is an amazing, high quality artist. His jewelry is unique, you will not see anything like it anywhere else, he calls it "Industribal," and it could be in museums. However, even if you can get into the Lithia market, you need to front money and have a whole set-up and there's a long waiting list (which indicates how many enthusiastic artists are being bilked by the ban). Many creative people are not business minded, live in poverty, and/or are unable to jump through a bunch of business hoops and hurdles.

Why is a town that celebrates art and culture putting such stringent restraints on the people who would provide it? Is this really the will of the people, as City Hall told me; or which people, exactly, are we talking about?

If this is about tourism, I call out the hypocrisy of putting on plays like "My Fair Lady" and "Robin Hood" and having Hollywood come to film phony street hippies, while simultaneously trying to suppress all the actual Liza Doolittles out there. If this is about the homeless, remember that panhandling is legal, the only homeless being affected are those actually trying to support themselves on their art.

But even more importantly than selling, I find that when I sell on the streets I get to meet all kinds of people and become more of the community. And ultimately, public space is about community and sharing. Why is space for everyone becoming part of an agenda to sterilize and have a perfect image? Who is allowed to be a part of the community and who is getting squeezed out? If we want art, shouldn't we make an effort to support actual artists (and there is a certain amount of chaos that comes with artists)? Can we at least make space to allow local artists to sell directly to the public easily with an affordable permit fee? Why a complete ban?

Ashland, I love you, but please don't succumb to the same trends that are happening everywhere, pushing the gap wider between the haves and have-nots. We can all coexist, so let's come up with some creative ideas to work it out!

Kate Wenzell is homeless.

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