Artists Face Super Bowl's Shutdown Corner

For some of San Francisco's working artists — the creative types without public commissions who prefer slinging T-shirts and inoffensive kitsch to tourists over starving — Super Bowl 50 has become a civic holiday, albeit unplanned and unpaid.

More than 130 holders of city Arts Commission-issued Street Artist Licenses set up shop on Justin Herman Plaza near the Embarcadero, sometimes every day of the week. On Jan. 4, the Arts Commission informed them they had to pack up on Jan. 18 and make way for the “Super Bowl City” fan village, which is to occupy their erstwhile sales floors until Sunday, Feb. 14, a week after the big game.

“It's basically three weeks of lost revenue,” says vendor Michael X. Trachiotis, who has waged a vocal public campaign to raise awareness of the plight of the artists, many of whom he says are lucky to earn $100 a day.

Joining them on the sidelines are a handful of food cart vendors, who were told by their city overseers, the Department of Public Works, that they too have to move — but at least the artists had some warning.

“On the 19th [of January], I got a call to move by the 23rd,” said Stan Roth, proprietor of the eponymous Stanley's Steamers hot dog carts and the owner of a cart that sells Indian dosas near Market and Drumm streets.

“You can't give somebody three days' notice to tell them they're going to be out of business for a month.”

Except you can. For the food sellers, a DPW spokeswoman said that the notice to relocate was issued as soon as Super Bowl City event promoters told the city they needed the space for loading and unloading.

In the case of the artists, officials with the Arts Commission say the first warning to move was made at a public meeting in November (although no official notice to vacate came until the Jan. 4 entreaty).

Whatever the reason, no compensation for the lost business is available — neither to artists nor food sellers — from the NFL, the Super Bowl Host Committee, or from the city. (Ten artist stalls will be allowed to set up between Third and Fourth streets, and some food carts will be given new locations, but both classes of merchant say the short notice will hurt business.) This is in part because “there is no precedent for compensation” for a shutdown caused by a large “public event” like Pride, according to Kate Patterson-Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Arts Commission.

But that's not entirely true. When a film production — be it television, commercial, or Hollywood — shuts down a public street, the filming company has to compensate the merchants whose businesses are harmed.

Patterson says a “free event” like Super Bowl City is “no comparison” to the shutdown of a public street — and that some artists, including members of the Arts Commission, are getting hooked up by the Super Bowl: they're getting paid to play some of the free concerts.

Why can't the NFL or the Super Bowl Host Committee, which is famously raising $50 million for charity, cover the artists' spread?

Probably for the same reason why it's not covering San Francisco's $5-million-and-growing bill for hosting the big game: It could, but it doesn't have to.

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