For the past 17 summers, Norman (Jay) Seagrave-Peel has created and sold thousands of his signature spray-painted artworks along the Inner Harbour’s lower causeway.
But last week, Seagrave-Peel was told he would be suspended this summer for what the artist called minor infractions: plugging into city power, playing music and rollerblading on the causeway.
“I’ve been there for 17 years without one complaint from the public or City of Victoria, or any run-ins with police,” said the 35-year-old artist.
In 2005, the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority assumed management of 29 visual artists, 27 musicians and nine street performers in the lower causeway from the City of Victoria. (The Songhees Nation controls vendor licences along the southern area of the lower causeway.)
The GVHA refused to comment on Seagrave-Peel’s suspension, but in a statement said unclaimed or suspended licences are awarded to new performers by a jury of staff and artist representatives.
“Each performer has a licence with GVHA which includes agreed business terms, a code of conduct and, in the event of disagreement between the parties, a dispute resolution process,” said Curtis Grad, GVHA president and CEO.
Seagrave-Peel said he’s willing to serve his suspension, but worries he’ll be pushed out of his prime performance spot in 2015.
“The city allocated the spot I use for one reason: because it’s such an open spot and there are fumes from spray can paint,” he said. “I made a couple of mistakes, and I’m willing to own up to them. But I don’t think I should be punished like this.”
Visual artist licence fees have increased dramatically since the GVHA took over the program, from about $500 in 2005 to $1,425 this year.
Grad said the licence fee for artists has increased “gradually and modestly over the years and is comparable to fees charged by other vendor markets in neighbouring areas.”
Costs paid by Inner Harbour causeway performers are used to cover repair and maintenance like the replacement of slate tiles and heritage lighting, Grad said.
Seagrave-Peel said he also showcases his work in Kelowna and White Rock, where the annual street licence fees are $45 and $150 respectively. In Vancouver’s English Bay, visual artists pay about $420 for the April-to-September season, although spray-paint artists are not permitted.
The GVHA’s stated objective is to achieve market rate for all its operations, which leaves Seagrave-Peel skeptical about securing such a large Inner Harbour space next year.
“It definitely seems like it’s one sided for the GVHA to make maximum profit out of the area,” he said.