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Jax Arts Advocates Propose New Street Art Legislation

Clay Hackett

After a Jacksonville artist was arrested for painting city-owned utility boxes, the city could soon consider legislation that would pay artists to do the same thing.

The Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville has submitted a draft to the Downtown Investment Authority that outlines a plan for public art. It would create legislation or a variance to current laws to allow certain forms of street art. One specific project would commission artists to paint city signal boxes.

"It's a pilot project for downtown," said Cultural Council Executive Director Tony Allegretti. "If it works out we can open it up and do more in other parts of town."

The Cultural Council and representatives from DIA, the city's public works department and city attorneys will all meet Wednesday, June 25 to review the plan. Allegretti says it was assembled using best practices from other cities including Orlando and Venice Beach, California.

Artist Chip Southworth raised awareness of the issues surrounding street art when he was arrested and charged with criminal mischief for painting nearly a dozen utility boxes using the name "Keith Haring's Ghost."  This week he entered a no contest plea and paid fines and restitution to the city of Jacksonville. Though his legal issues are over, he said he won't feel like his case is resolved until the city passes street art legislation.

Southworth said other cities like Austin, Portland and Miami are attracting young people to downtown areas, "because they embraced art 5 to 10 years ago...and Jacksonville is kind of on the precipice of that."

He expressed support for designated areas for graffiti — one of the ideas in the Cultural Council's plan.

"There’s plenty of evidence out there that shows when you have these walls these areas where kids can go to paint it takes a lot of stress off other areas so you don’t have as much tagging or other general graffiti out there," he said.   

Any proposal would ultimately require City Council approval.

You can follow Karen Feagins on Twitter @karenfeagins.

Karen found her home in public broadcasting after working for several years as a commercial television reporter. She joinedWJCTin 2005 as the host of 89.9 FM’s Morning Edition and has held many different roles at the station in both radio and television. She has written and produced documentaries includingBeluthahatchee: The Legacy of Stetson Kennedy and Jacksonville Beach: Against the Tide and directed the oral history project, Voices of the First Coast.