Artists, gallery owners debate rules of selling art

Provincetown Licensing Board gets an earful

 THE PROVINCETOWN LICENSING BOARD held a hearing this week on who should be able to sell art in town, and the panel got an earful from artists and gallery owners.

About 75 people crammed into the town hall’s meeting room on Tuesday night to hear testimony on whether it’s fair that coffee shops, bars, restaurants, and other establishments can exhibit and sell art without complying with any of the rules and regulations that apply to galleries.

Carol Santos, a member of the licensing board, explained what prompted the hearing. “This meeting originated in June when a gallery owner came before the board to explain how he, and several other gallery owners, consider the sale of art lacks equity,” Santos said. “We also read about this contention on Facebook and heard lots of vitriolic gossip among the art scene players. So, here we are.”

Many members of the crowd complained loudly when board chair Frank Thompson set a three-minute speaking limit for all witnesses but gave gallery owner Ray Wiggs, who came before the board in June, 15 minutes.  Thompson called Wiggs the hearing’s originator.

“Galleries do want art hung everywhere as long as it is legal and not threatening the health of the galleries that once exclusively brought hordes of tourists in pursuit of art,” Wiggs said. “That whining over my getting more speaking time after I made this hearing happen? It shows no respect for long-established, income-generating galleries. It shows the board is dictated by a mob-rule mentality.”

Wiggs and other gallery owners have suggested that retail establishments selling art should be licensed and take no more than a 10 percent cut of any sale. Wiggs also insisted that galleries should sell only “fine art,” while retail and restaurants should be allowed to sell everything else.

Wiggs received no support during the public testimony, which lasted 90 minutes.

Christine McCarthy, the CEO of the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, delivered a spirited defense of allowing artists to sell their art wherever they want.

Christine McCarthy of the Provincetown Art Association and Museum.

“The gallery proposal demands that only ‘fine art’ can be shown in galleries and not allowed in unregulated establishments,” she said. “I’m constantly being hammered with the question from artists of ‘How do I get into a gallery?’ ‘What is fine art?’ My answer? I have no idea and I bet the board and the galleries don’t have a clue. This is the hometown of art in America, forget the rules and regulations. Let’s just show and sell it for the artist’s sake!”

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Photographer Marion Roth said she needed places to show her work to reach an audience. “Exposure! We must show our work everywhere we can,” she said. “To put it in a place other than a gallery isn’t exploitation, it’s life sustenance to an artist. It’s also keeping our community economically vibrant.”

Artist Peter Hawkins said the town’s policy for a century has been “out of your home or anywhere else in town you’re freely allowed to sell fish and art. That idea should stick!”

Santos said at the end of the hearing that the licensing board will probably decide by the end of the year whether any rules and regulations will change.