Judge Says City Cannot Stop Artists Selling On Street

City of Reno, Nevada
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A federal judge has ruled that artists can sell their works on Reno streets without first getting approval from a city committee.

U.S. District Judge David Hagen said in a temporary restraining order that demanding such prior approval is a violation of the artists'First Amendment rights.

A city attorney said the ruling means the city council will have to carve out an exception to Reno's street vendor ordinance, which was written primarily with hot-dog stands in mind.

Ben Klinefelter, a sculptor from Silver Springs, and Steven White, a traveling painter, sued the city after officials told them they'd be subject to arrest if they sold art on streets or in parks without first submitting their work for review.

Hagen ruled last week that they are free to sell their works as long as they get a business license and don't obstruct sidewalks.

"No one can decide whether someone's protected free-speech activity is good enough to be sold on the streets of downtown Reno,"said Terri Keyser Cooper, a Reno lawyer representing two artists who challenged the city.

Deputy City Attorney Creig Skau said the city will redraft the ordinance to designate reasonable hours and places for artists to work in the entertainment zone and river district corridor.

"Frankly, the ordinance was adopted with the idea of goods and services,"Skau told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

"It wasn't done in contemplation of art. In fact, I would think the city would like to see artists downtown."

City Councilman Dave Aiazzi said he'd welcome more artists downtown.

Klinefelter, who has made a living as a sculptor since 1985, said the ruling marks an important victory.

"It will be a good thing for artists to show their work. It's really fun to perform artwork in public."

Still to be determined is whether the plaintiffs will have to buy insurance or undergo criminal background checks. Cooper argues the business license fee and the other costs should be minimal.