By Greta Cobar
The boardwalk lottery, which somewhat changed the free spirit of Venice over the past two years, was deemed to violate the 1st Amendment’s right to free speech by the US District Judge Dean D. Pregerson. A temporary injunction is taking place immediately to make all boardwalk spaces available on a first-come basis.
Most, if not all, true artists are pleased with the ruling, as the lottery system allowed families to enter all of their members in the lottery, from children to senior citizens, in hopes of a space or multiple spaces, which they were able to fill with merchandise cheaply purchased on The Alley downtown and sold at double or triple the price out here in Venice. Either that or they sold their spots to other vendors selling other imports from China.
The noise ordinance established by the lottery, prohibiting musical instruments or amplified sound in certain areas of the boardwalk between 9 am and sunset, was also suspended by the judge.
The basic rules of the boardwalk, however, are that only hand-made items can be traded for donations and that anybody is entitled to free speech, such as political activism or performance art. If that law was enforced, there would be plenty of space for everybody. Instead, true artists and performers are harassed and marginalized in favor of commercial vendors mostly from outside of Venice. This is true with or without the lottery system.
Under the lottery system, 100 spaces on the boardwalk were labeled as “P spaces,” which stands for Performer, and another 100 spaces were “I spaces,” which stands for Interactive-Intertwined, a code name for selling stuff, and an additional ten “Black” spaces were available on a first-come basis, two of which were for food distribution only. In reality, however, all spaces have been used mainly by commercial vendors over the period of the lottery system.
Although getting rid of the lottery was celebrated by the Venice artists, they would also like to see all commercial vendors gone and the boardwalk back to what it was intended to be, a place of self-expression.
The lawsuit was filed by 13 Venice artists, such as Solomon, the snake man, who was unable to continue performing on the boardwalk because he chose to not be part of the lottery system. However, most Venice artists were cornered into taking part in a system that they did not agree with.
Ibrahim, one of the most prolific artists in Venice and one of the few who stood his grounds and never took part in the lottery, said that getting rid of it is fantastic. “I have a suitcase full of tickets, all behind the lottery, that I still have to go to court for, even though I’m supposed to go on vacation. Although the lottery is gone, I still have to go to court,” he said. Talk a about waste of resources on the government’s part.
RA RA Superstar, who has been showcasing his paintings on the boardwalk since 1999, had to become part of the lottery to continue his presence on the boardwalk, but confessed that many weeks he did not get a space and was frustrated. He also pointed out the fact that there never was a P or I zone, but it was just commercial vending all over the place. Also, without a lottery ticket one could set up in a P zone only after 12 noon, which affected the flow of people on the boardwalk, as the tourists tended to come only after noon, when the place was livelier.
Vivianne Robinson, who does the “Name on Rice” and who was born in Venice, was happy to see the lottery gone. She chose to be part of it as a back-up plan, but she mainly used or shared the black space right in front of her shop. She’s been on the boardwalk for 16 years.
Wolf, one of the best musicians in the world who plays flute, mandolin and guitar on the boardwalk, was another one of the few who resisted becoming part of a lottery system he did not agree with. To continue performing he had to maneuver around the rules and pay unfair tickets.
Following the Venice tradition, we will focus on the positive and celebrate the injunction of one of the nastiest regulations ever enforced on our boardwalk. However, in that same tradition we will continue the fight towards real opportunity for self-expression, minus The Alley junk.