Home > Chicago, Legal & Copyright, Shellie Lewis' Art > Street Artist Diary: August 3, 2013

Street Artist Diary: August 3, 2013



Today I continued with my street art and activism routine downtown.  I passed eight panhandlers from the library stop at State & Van Buren to my corner at Washington & Michigan.  One panhandler was actually on his knees on the sidewalk for close to an hour with a plastic cup in front of him, which was emotionally disturbing to watch.  I also saw three street performers with permits who were out busking, including the violinist from day one.  A friend and fellow hackerspace member also passed by and we briefly spoke.  I am only in my allocated position once a week, usually on Saturday as weekdays have proven to have very slow foot traffic on that corner.  I am getting to know the downtown street people better as time progresses.


I have been sticking to a policy of hiring a panhandler as part of my street art routine.  Needing a bathroom break helps me stay out on the street corner for longer than a few hours.  I was out for five hours today and hired a homeless woman named Trey.  My standing offer is $5 for 15 minutes to watch my stuff; anyone hired only has to tell people I will be back soon and prevent theft.  My HBBF feels this amount is too generous but I feel it is equitable payment as is at least enough money to buy some food.  My hires thus far have voiced appreciation for the amount and requested to help again in the future if I should be available to hire them again.  Only one person has ever ditched me out.  To date an absolute majority of the homeless or people begging on the streets have proven to actually be willing to do work they are able to manage to earn pay.


A prior hire named Jackie has not been seen for weeks according to Trey; I asked because I have not seen Jackie either.  I hope Jackie is in a better place.  I drew a cartoony angel on Trey’s cardboard sign asking for money and she wanted me to sign it, so I did.  With a few art schools in close proximity, it seems to be a bit of a thing where locals -either artists or students- paint and draw more elaborate signs for the homeless.  I saw a cardboard sign made with an array of acrylic paints that was an illustration of the city skyline and the center text implored people to give money.  About an hour was passed talking about art stuff with a young man named Brad who had a folder of drawings with him. Brad said he is currently homeless and expressed interest whether selling drawings could make him any money.  I advised him I was not making money myself, having only made $1 thus far.  I explained that this is a political action to show people what could be available to them from local creative people and that Chicago Municipal Code for peddling laws needs to be reformed.  Also, that it is social because there are no street artists or peddlers downtown and many people assume I am either begging or doing something illegal.  The majority of the public ignores me with a hardened aggression that has been honed by years to decades of unwanted approaches on the street.  Curiosity or interest comes primarily from tourists and visitors.  I had given Brad a zine as a demonstration of what zines are and as gift, artist to artist, yet he insisted I accept a dollar for it.


The police finally dropped on me today.  A female officer was hovering and then approached when a second female office came in behind her.  She started off with saying “you are not allowed to be selling here” and I told I was allowed and had all the proper permits.  The first officer reviewed all of the documents.  I was splitting my attention between Brad, we had been in a conversation before the officers interrupted, and also trying to keep a level tone since the police were making Brad nervous.  Chicago police have a long track record of harrying, harassing, arresting and generally kicking around homeless people.  Being in that vulnerable of a position does not make uniformed officers a welcome sight to any homeless person I ever met.  I explained that what I was doing was new and all of my paperwork was in order.  I also had the name and phone number of the sergeant these officers answer to written across the top of my paper permit.  You know, it’s handy in case I need it.  The officers gave me my paperwork back, turned and left, but one made some sort of impolite dismissive hand gesture which Brad rebuked her for with a comment I cannot remember.  Having now been tested, my permits and licenses have held up and I was not dislodged from my space on the street or arrested.


My primary fun was watching people in their various get ups heading to Lollapalooza.  Some seem to dress in a strangely 1990s imaginary version of 1970s Woodstock attire: flowing tops, long skirts and flowers in their hair.  One guy was either Steampunk or really retro in a black top hat, a black waistcoat with slacks, a grey vest and silver metal watch chain.  Two young men with Guy Fawkes masks on were strolling along with a friend in a large plushy Scooby Doo costume.  Some concert goers told others about the petition I wanted signatures for and a few people traveled from Lolla to where I was to sign it, which had me thrilled.


I ended out the day at -$3.00 in cash, a new batch of petition signatures and a bump in optimism that will help for my next day out on the street.  Being nailed down in the one -and only one- location is a huge disadvantage.  If I could legally move closer to where people were milling around for Lollapalooza, I would have had a more advantageous position.  A kind Latino man who signed my petition asked me if I knew how much it cost for a street sales permit in London.  I told him I did not.  He said it was €25 for a whole year and that people were mobile throughout London.  How I wish the laws were the same in Chicago.

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