PORT TOWNSEND — It was a turnaround like lightning: When Black Lives Matter of Jefferson County allies planned to paint their message downtown for the Juneteenth Freedom March on June 19, the Port Townsend City Council authorized it a few days before brushes touched pavement.
Giant, multicolored “BLACK LIVES MATTER” letters, though weathered, still can be seen on the asphalt on Water Street between Madison and Monroe streets.
And since the City Council has heard from other people hoping to paint streets elsewhere in town, it has brought a permit ordinance to its agenda. The council will consider enacting the ordinance during its 6:30 p.m. meeting Monday; to listen or watch, see cityofPT.us and use the Government and Agendas/Minutes links.
The draft ordinance lists criteria street painters must meet for permit approval — criteria City Attorney Heidi Greenwood was careful to base in legal precedents. Street paintings are protected by First Amendment rights to free expression, while the city may impose conditions regarding time, place and manner, she said.
According to the ordinance, the city reserves the right to deny a street art permit application — or remove the art — if it depicts violent or sexually graphic images, religious symbols or the desecration of those symbols, or hatred of people.
A permit application also can be denied if the proposed art promotes a political candidate or ballot measure or advertises a good or service for sale.
Council member Owen Rowe cautioned at an earlier meeting against using the word “art,” noting that street painters’ work should be differentiated from the city’s official public art collection.
“What could be the word that isn’t ‘art’?” asked Council member Monica MickHager.
“I would offer the word ‘decoration,’” Rowe answered.
In a later interview, Rowe said he’d listened to the Port Townsend Arts Commission’s discussions of the proposed ordinance. The commission had legitimate concerns, he said, about the city placing limits on artistic expression and creativity. So the words “street decoration,” to his mind, are the way to go.
Painting of Port Townsend’s streets, intersections and crosswalks could be a “fantastic” way to bring people together, Rowe added
He referred to the City Repair Project in Oregon as an example, with its paintings of trees, geometric designs, roses and other blooms on streets across the Portland metropolitan area.
These decorations also can have a traffic-calming effect, he said.
“People slow down,” Rowe said, to see the words and flowers.
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]