Special events are getting a lot of attention from the Scottsdale City Council these days, fueled by gallery owners who say the nature, length, and timing of some events are hurting art galleries located along Main Street and Marshall Way, the section of downtown Scottsdale dubbed Old Town.
It’s certainly the case that Scottsdale’s gallery scene has waned in recent years. Galleries including Lisa Sette Gallery and Bentley Gallery have relocated to Phoenix, and others have simply gone out of business. But the reasons are up for debate.
The special events issue isn’t new. In March of 2014, nearly three dozen merchants and tenants along Fifth Avenue and Stetson signed an open letter protesting Artisan Markets and other activities alleged to reduce traffic flow between the Waterfront and Old Town.
Artisan Markets, a business started by artist Audrey Thacker in 2009, brings together various artisans who show and sell their works in tents during markets held most Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons from October through May. Artisan Markets also presents several weekend events throughout the year.
The markets have been situated at the Scottsdale Waterfront since the fall of 2009, where Thacker says 30 to 70 artisans typically take part. Thacker says they average 1,500 people each Thursday, 3,000 people each Sunday, and 10,000 to 30,000 during weekend events.
Similar appeals were made by shops owners on 5th Avenue and Main Street in 2012, but they weren't addressed to the Scottsdale City Council — so they never made it onto a City Council meeting agenda.
Now, concerns about the impact of special events on galleries are being formally addressed by the Scottsdale City Council, which has received several related petitions and a plethora of correspondence on the subject — some from groups and individuals who side with the galleries, others who are pro-Artisan Markets.
Special events are being discussed at the next Scottsdale City Council meeting, which takes place on Tuesday, October 6, at 5 p.m. at Scottsdale City Hall, which is located on the Scottsdale Civic Center Mall. It’s an issue worth watching, even for people who don’t live in Scottsdale, because galleries and special events share the arts ecosystem in plenty of other places. You can prepare by reading the agenda, along with 134 pages of related information.
For artists, gallery owners, small businesses, and government officials in other cities, the Scottsdale dispute is a case study rife with insights about the ongoing evolution of arts and entertainment.
The Scottsdale Gallery Association (SGA), which represents 27 galleries and is headed by Veronica Graffius of Calvin Charles Gallery, made its case for limiting special events during a presentation made during a July 28 gathering organized by the SGA. It took place at Calvin Charles Gallery, and was attended by approximately 40 people including gallery owners, city staff, and others.
During the presentation, several Scottsdale gallery owners presented the case for limiting special events, which they insist are negatively impacting their businesses. French Thompson, who owns French Designer Jeweler, argued that vendor-driven events are small businesses rather than events. Paul Eubanks, who owns Gallery Russia, described long-term events such as Scottsdale Celebration of Fine Art as seasonal businesses that operate without “the constraints of brick and mortar obligations.”
Bob Pejman, who owns Pejman Gallery, listed various art events "in and around" Scottsdale (since Thunderbird Artists hold shows both in Scottsdale and "neighboring towns"), noting that they happen 244 days a year. Then he presented a list of gallery closures on Main Street and Marshall Way since 2009. It includes six that have closed in 2015 — plus Method Gallery, which moved across the street and morphed into a downsized Method Studio. Pejman insists there's a connection between the rise of events and the downfall of the galleries.
Clearly, several other gallery owners draw a direct line from increasing art events to decreasing gallery sales, although they’ve yet to present concrete evidence beyond anecdotal accounts. Those who’ve sent letters to the City Council expressing event-related concerns include American Fine Art, Marshall Gallery, Modern American, Touchstone Gallery, and others.
In July, the SGA asked the City not to grant permits for what it considers competing events on Thursday evenings. That’s when the weekly Scottsdale ArtWalk has taken place since 1975.
Specifically, the SGA expressed opposition to Artisan Markets happening Thursday nights along the Scottsdale Waterfront, which is federally-owned property managed by SRP.
Since then, additional special event-related petitions have been submitted to the Scottsdale City Council. An SGA petition presented at the August 25 City Council meeting asked the Council to take six actions — including making ArtWalk the only art-related event on Thursday nights and allowing only 30 days for arts events each year. The SGA does not count Thursday ArtWalks as events.
Scottsdale's current special events ordinance was adopted in 1992. The ordinance applies solely to special events on private property, according to background material provided to the City Council by City staff on August 31. Staff also noted that the same process has been used to review events on public property. Scottsdale's basic zoning ordinance defines special events this way: "Special event shall mean a temporary outdoor use on private property which extends beyond the normal uses and standards allowed by the Zoning Ordinance." Examples of special events listed in the ordinance include art shows, sidewalk sales, carnivals, grand openings, festivals, and more.
SGA representatives have said they’re not opposed to Canal Convergence, an annual festival presented by Scottsdale Public Art along the Scottsdale Waterfront, or the Scottsdale Arts Festival — because both are short-term and enhance Scottsdale’s reputation as a fine arts destination. They don't take issue with events presented by Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, or Scottsdale Public Art.
The six-point SGA petition also asked that special events not compete with or have an adverse effect on sales or foot traffic for local businesses. They’ve asked the City Council to rewrite the special events ordinance to define special events as “unique, short-term activities and/or festivals,” and to specify that “temporary, pop-up retail businesses” are not special events. And they want the Scottsdale City Council to sign off on every special event permit granted by the City.
The petition prompted the Scottsdale City Council to consider whether it might be time to discuss possible revisions to its special events ordinance, given the fact that special events have evolved significantly since the current ordinance was adopted more than a decade ago.
After exploring the issue in a series of work-study sessions concluding on September 21, Scottsdale City Council directed Brent Stockwell, Assistant City Manager with the City of Scottsdale, to conduct outreach to downtown Scottsdale merchants associations and other interested parties regarding possible changes to the special events ordinance.
The City of Scottsdale is holding public meetings regarding the special events ordinance at noon and 5 p.m. on October 22 and November 1 (both Thursdays) and at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, December 8. Stockwell says a website for gathering related input is also in the works.
Another petition, submitted in mid-September by Southbridge and Stetson Drive Merchants, took the issue a step further by asking the Scottsdale City Council to rescind the City’s special events permit for Artisan Markets for the 2015-16 season entirely, thus preventing Artisan Markets from operating as planned during the coming season. It contains approximately 40 signatures, including those of seven SGA board members.
The petitioners assert three things — that the current ordinance does not permit the special events committee to grant use of public property, that granting a permit (to Artisan Markets) for entire season for just $159 constitutes a gift prohibited by both the city’s charter and the state’s constitution, and that the permit violates special events policy because it “will negatively impact surrounding businesses.”
Audrey Thacker, founder and owner for Artisan Markets, had originally planned to hold this season’s first market on Thursday, October 8, but says she has pushed that back a week in light of the October 6 City Council meeting. “This conflict has gotten way out of control,” Thacker says. She says Artisans Markets bring people to downtown Scottsdale, helping to activate the neighborhood to everyone’s benefit.
Recently, Thacker submitted a letter to City Staff, in which she reviewed and rebutted nine SGA complaints. It’s part of all the fine print available on the Scottsdale City Council website.
Both the general issue of possible revisions to the city’s special event ordinance, and the SGA's request to rescind Artisan Market’s current permit with the city, are on the agenda for the October 6 City Council meeting. At present, Artisan Markets has permits for events they've scheduled from October 15 through December 26, 2015. So far, no permit has been issued Artisan Markets want to hold from January to April next year.
Members of the public are free to attend, and people are already lining up on either side of the Artisan Markets versus Scottsdale Gallery Association debate.
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SGA, and its supporters, argue that retail-driven special events such as Artisan Markets sap customers from local businesses, and damage Scottsdale’s reputation as a fine arts destination. Artisan Market supporters say the markets benefit surrounding businesses by drawing more people to the area.
Scottsdale artist and art collector KC Costello is one of several people planning to attend the October 6 City Council meeting. She’s represented several artists who show works in various galleries and at several events. “A lot of artists who have galleries started somewhere in a tent,” says Costello.
Costello says unfair competition isn’t really an issue, adding that Artisan Markets and Scottsdale galleries sell far different fare. Though, she says, competition isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Still, she "doesn't want tourists to feel this friction." For Costello, it's all about exposing the most people to the most art. "In a world where people love art," she says, "everybody should get along."
The Scottsdale City Council meeting that includes consideration of these issues takes place Tuesday, October 6, at 5 p.m. at the City Hall Kiva Forum, located at 3939 North Drinkwater Boulevard in Scottsdale. Find more information on the City of Scottsdale website.