Street Performers Win Early Battle

OCEAN CITY – The Ocean City Police Department was instructed to stand back from enforcing recently proposed regulations restricting Boardwalk performers over Memorial Day weekend and that will continue to be the case until the Mayor and Council decides on a course of action later this month.

Boardwalk street performers protested over Memorial Day weekend by setting up their performance areas on North Division Street, which is proposed to be banned from the available space for artists in a recently proposed ordinance, due to the street serving as an emergency access.

This past Tuesday a discussion was scheduled for the Mayor and City Council to discuss street performer guidelines. The council decided to postpone the discussion and planned a special work session for June 14 instead to meet with street performers and the police department to work out a compromise on the recently proposed ordinance limiting the performers’ space and guidelines to follow while performing on the Boardwalk.

Last week, Mark Chase, a spray paint artist who led the protest and performs his art on North Division Street, said to remove performers from North Division Street or forbid them from being vendors is against their right to exercise the First Amendment.

On Wednesday, Chief of Police Bernadette DiPino said the council has not made any regulation changes as were proposed so the ordinance from last year is still in place.

“We were given the direction to just hold off any enforcement as they get things regulated,” she said. “Our direction is that we are going to enforce the ordinance that is on the books right now to make sure they stay on the street ends and to make sure that they are not blocking the flow of traffic, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Once the street performer guidelines discussion was postponed from Tuesday’s meeting, DiPino said she was given further instructions.

“It was discussed again and my directions given were to enforce the regulations, everything except for the part about soliciting money,” she said.

Chase argues that the town cannot prevent performers from being vendors, or selling their art because it is not legal. A couple of weeks ago a letter was written to Chief DiPino from the Rutherford Institute on behalf of Chase, and it stated the court case White v. City of Sparks struck down city regulations forbidding an artist from selling paintings created on a public sidewalk, ruling that “an artist’s sale of his original paintings is entitled to First Amendment protection.”

The court also ruled that a city ordinance requiring the artist to obtain pre-approval before selling art was unconstitutional.

DiPino confirmed Chase was performing his spray paint art on the Boardwalk over Memorial Day weekend and had his paintings for sale but there was no enforcement made to prevent him from doing so.