RCJ recently succeeded in persuading the Street Artists Committee of the San Francisco Arts Commission to rescind a regulation that infringed the First Amendment rights of street artists working in the medium of slumped bottles. The original regulation, passed by the Commission on September 8, 2010 (http://www.sfgov3.org/index.aspx?page=2230), provided that:
a) A raw commercially-manufactured bottle must be cleaned, prepared, slumped, and finished by the street artist.
b) The bottle must show a substantial or significant transformation of its commercial elements by the artist.
c) A bottle’s commercial label or applied images which are not created by the artist must be substantially altered to reflect significant input by the artist to the item as a whole. If the artist does not significantly alter the label or applied images, the artist may embellish the bottle itself; but the embellishment must visually outweigh the unaltered commercial label or images.
Following a letter sent by RCJ to the San Francisco City Attorney explaining that the regulation constituted a content-based restriction, and a prior restraint, on art involving commercially manufactured bottles, the Street Artists Committee rescinded the regulation and approved the following modified regulation on January 12, 2011 (http://www.sfgov3.org/index.aspx?page=2563):
Slumped/Flattened or Re-Shaped Bottles: Street Artists wishing to sell slumped, flattened, or re-shaped commercially manufactured bottles must prepare, finish, and significantly alter the original form of the bottles.
RCJ believes that artists everywhere should have the freedom to interpret found objects, and indeed to create all forms of artistic expression, in a manner of their choosing and without government interference. We are proud to have played a role in this matter, and are pleased that the Street Artists Committee reversed itself on this important issue.
To learn more about San Francisco’s Street Artists Program, see http://www.sfartscommission.org/street_artists_program. If you would like to learn more about the law with respect to street art, the following cases are a good starting point: White v. City of Sparks, 500 F.3d 953 (9th Cir. 2007); Bery v. City of New York, 97 F.3d 689, 696 (2d Cir. 1996).