Salt Lake City artists sues Park City for right to sell works | ParkRecord.com

Salt Lake City artists sues Park City for right to sell works

MATT JAMES, Of the Record staff

Park City has strict rules regarding the public sale and display of public art, and recently, those rules came have come under attack by a Salt Lake City artist. Friday, March 10, abstract artist Shaun L. Christensen filed a lawsuit against City Hall in the United States District Court in Salt Lake City.

According to the lawsuit, the Park City Police Department violated Christensen’s First Amendment rights by preventing him from displaying and selling his artwork in Miners Park on Main Street.

"Park City is known as an artist’s town, so you think they’d want artists there," said Christensen.

Apparently, he said, that is not the case.

"It seems like they just want to hide that away," he added.

The alleged violation occurred in January of 2004, when two Park City police officers arrested Christensen after he refused to stop trying to sell his work, maintaining that his right to sell his art is protected under the First Amendment.

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Christensen posted bail after three nights in the Summit County Jail; he was charged with conducting business without a business license and conducting business not in an enclosed building.

Approximately two months later, the charges against Christensen were dropped, but the artist maintained that the Park City business license laws are unconstitutional, leading him to file the lawsuit earlier this month.

Christensen said he spent the two years between his arrest and the lawsuit examining possible courses of action.

According to his attorney, Salt Lake City lawyer Brian Barnard, the Park City business license laws violated the constitution because they allowed nonprofit groups to sell goods without a business license, but restricted the rights of other groups like artists. He said the opposition to the street artists seemed to come from the town’s galleries, which wanted to prevent additional competition from cropping up on the sidewalks and in the parks.

In the end, he said, the laws are discriminatory.

"If you’re going to have restrictions on free speech," he said, "they have to do that equally to all things."

Barnard said he believed the city’s law would be found unconstitutional based on precedents from past federal cases.

"It’s based upon decisions from other states, where it’s based on almost exactly the same factors," he said.

The precedents, said Barnard, come from Washington State, California and New York. He said that laws can restrict the number of artists within a certain space, but they may not discriminate based on content.

Since Christensen’s arrest, Park City has changed its laws regarding street artists. Park City Municipal Corporation Municipal Code 4-3A-7 "aims to control the adverse effects of artists who exhibit their artistry in public places," according to its wording.

However, the code also said it intends its regulations to be content neutral. The law provides a way in which artists may legally sell their works outside, in public, requiring artists to register with the city and allowing them to sell their works in the small park at the bottom of Main Street. Artists may not sell pieces on any city property not specifically outlined in the code.

While Christensen’s current lawsuit does not challenge the new law, Barnard said the new code is still unsuitable. It is still too restrictive, he said, and challenging it in court remains a possibility.

"We’re seriously considering it," he said.

Christensen agreed.

"For Park City to say you can only go to a park, that’s really constrictive," he said.

"If their new rules can’t get addressed, we might file another lawsuit," he added.

According to Barnard, the current lawsuit’s primary aim is an educational one.

"The main thing is to try and educate the people that run Park City, that the First Amendment applies," he said.

But Barnard said the suit might still seek damages.

"A couple days in jail is worth something," he said. "Being handcuffed and humiliated by the police is worth something, but we haven’t set a specific amount."

Deputy City Attorney Tom Daley said the city had not yet been served with the lawsuit and declined further comment.

Christensen said he wants the right to display and sell his work freely in public.

"Art is not something that you can control," he said. "I hope that an artist never gets arrested in Park City, never again, and I hope that people want that ability to display their art. Something needs to happen to allow this to happen."

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