Art or craft? Portland draws a line in considering crafters market

Artisans and craft makers sell products to tourists coming off of a cruise ship on Commercial Street Thursday. The city of Portland is planning to cement in an ordinance the difference between &quotart" and &quotcraft" as it works through the process of creating a weekly crafters market in Monument Square.
Artisans and craft makers sell products to tourists coming off of a cruise ship on Commercial Street Thursday. The city of Portland is planning to cement in an ordinance the difference between "art" and "craft" as it works through the process of creating a weekly crafters market in Monument Square.
Posted Oct. 06, 2011, at 12:57 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Portland officials must wade through the potentially murky waters of defining the difference between an art and a craft as they consider creating a weekly crafters market in Monument Square.

Currently, individuals defined as artists can legally create and sell art in public spaces without a permit as long as they’re not obstructing the public right of way. Individuals defined as craft makers, however, cannot.

City spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said the city only allows crafters to set up street tables during festivals, in part because local shopkeepers believe unregulated sidewalk craft tables would have an unfair advantage selling to potential downtown customers.

As the city becomes a popular cruise ship destination, Portland officials have had to take a harder stance on the issue, Clegg said. To cater to the tourists emptied into the Old Port by massive cruise ships, artisans and crafters have flocked to Commercial Street.

The artists can stay, Clegg said, but the crafters cannot.

“I think they’re upset when we say they can’t be there, but we hope they understand why,” Clegg said. “Just like the merchants get upset when they drive by and see somebody outside selling the same thing they sell right nearby their stores.”

As it’s currently proposed, the crafters market would be set up on Thursdays in Monument Square, similar to how the popular farmers market is set up there on Mondays and Wednesdays.

“The idea of a crafters market would be to have a central location to create community, in the same way that having a single farm stand, while wonderful, isn’t the same as having a farmers market,” said Andrew Graham, president of Creative Portland Corp., a quasi-public arts organization. “What I care about is doing things that create more joy and activity in the community, and this strikes me as another way we can come together and enjoy the fruits of our community as a group rather than as individuals.”

Public comment on the subject of establishing a weekly crafters market, as well as what items would be allowed to be sold there, will begin at the Oct. 18 meeting of the City Council’s Health and Recreation Committee. Committee recommendations about ordinance language to establish a crafters market will then be passed on to the larger council, which will hold its own public hearing and consideration process before deciding whether to approve the language.

“We certainly want to support small entrepreneurs and local businesses, and this would give them a space to sell in Portland,” Clegg said. “What we’re trying to do is give those folks a venue with the crafters market.”

Clegg said legal precedent defines “art” as photography, sculpture and painting, and that’s what the city uses to define an “artist” versus a craft maker. As with the farmers market, a crafters market would be a specifically permitted place in the city where only crafters could sell their wares, not artists, who could still set up around the perimeter during market days.

Clegg said the issue of defining “crafts” can still get sticky, however, as some who propose to set up tables as craft makers are selling trinkets made in mass quantities out-of-state.

She said the city is tentatively proposing to define crafts as items that are handmade in Maine, and that are not manufactured, mass-produced, imported or commercial.

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