The collective known as the Anti Flower Show Movement is hosting an art gathering in Rittenhouse Square this Saturday following a Monday incident where three artists had their artwork confiscated by city officials.
A video shared by the street artist @irregularsean on Instagram shows three artists interacting with Philly police officers near the 18th Street entrance on the east side of Rittenhouse Square as other officials load paintings into a van.
When they refused, more law enforcement arrived at the scene, they said, along with officials from the Department of Licenses and Inspections. The artists said they told the police, “Not today.” The quote means “it won’t be today that we give up our rights and fold to oppression,” Ginger said, “and it won’t be today that we stop expressing ourselves and connecting with our communities through art.”
“After three hours of back and forth a van from L&I pulled up and the cops threw all of Neek’s art in the back, damaging several pieces.” Ginger said.
All three artists mentioned that two of the pieces being displayed said “No Arena in Chinatown,” and one person’s shirt bore the same sentiment.
They were extra frustrated with what happened, they said, because many artists have been known to sell their work in and around the park without being asked to leave.
Officially, if you want to sell something at a sidewalk pop-up in Philadelphia, you have to get a few permits and licenses first, including a $330 Sidewalk Sales License and a Commercial Activity License. But these rules are often overlooked — as they were for years in West Philly’s Clark Park. And in Rittenhouse Square.
“We’ve been going there for about a year now at least once a week,” said Neek, who identified themself as a committee member for the Anti Flower Show Movement, the group staging the solidarity gathering this weekend.
The L&I officials showed up after a Police Department request for assistance, a city spokesperson said in a statement provided after this article published, adding that the artwork was confiscated after the artists refused to leave despite a warning.
“The artwork was removed due to a lack of license, not because of its content,” the spokesperson said.
Although @irregularsean was not present when the L&I officials came to take the art away, they shared the video on social media because, “it could have been me.”
In the video, NZ One can also be seen destroying his own work.
“I knew if I gave it to them I wasn’t going to get it back,” he told Billy Penn. “They gave no information as to how to get it back unless I gave them my personal information which I had no intention to do.”
According to Philadelphia policy, anyone issued a Vending Confiscation Notice for selling street goods has 30 days to file an appeal with the Board of License and Inspections Review. To get the materials back, you have to get the proper licenses and pay a fine. Only then can you schedule an appointment for retrieval.
“The artists did not provide ID at the time of confiscation,” the city spokesperson said, adding that if they schedule an appointment with L&I, “the city will work to reunite them with the items that were confiscated.”
Tuesday afternoon, a day after the incident, the artists involved were joined by others in staging a mini protest by putting up about 30 blank canvases surrounding the 18th Street entrance.
“We’re just out here trying to spread the word about what happened,” Neek told Billy Penn. “If anyone asks, we’re going to tell them.”
Spreading the word and drawing attention to what happened are goals of the Saturday event being organized by the Anti Flower Show Movement. As the popular farmer’s market brings crowds to the north side of Rittenhouse Square, the collective is asking artists to stage an art show along the east side, the same place NZ One, NEEK, and Ginger were asked to leave.
“What do we want?” the event flier says. “A right to be alive, a right to be ourselves, a right to provide beauty, not just for Philly, for everywhere. Freedom of Speech.”
A screenshot included in an Instagram post promoting the event reads, “I just broke my shit so them dirty ass cops couldn’t have it.”
The post has more than a thousand likes and is filled with commenters speaking on how artists selling their work in Rittenhouse has been the norm for years.
Said Neek: “It’s more of a community issue than just the art getting destroyed.”