UPDATE: After talks with Boynton Beach's city manager and the chiefs of the police and fire departments, the monthly BBAD Art Walk is back on. On October 23, 2014, the event will celebrate its fourth anniversary.
Four years ago, up-and-coming artist and gallery owner Rolando Barrero had a vision to turn a rundown industrial park west of 1-95 in Boynton Beach into a little artists' hub. Back in 2010, the area now known as the Boynton Beach Arts District consisted mainly of storage units that housed machinery, used carpets, and old car parts, with many units sitting empty. Since that time, Barrero has become a beacon for Palm Beach County's arts community with his brainchild, BBAD. Now housing ten artists, he transformed this unlikely spot into one of South Florida's leading artist enclaves north of Wynwood.
A key to BBAD's success has been its well-staged monthly art walks, which most recently received top honors as New Times' best art walk for Broward and Palm Beach counties. That's why we're scratching our heads at the news that the city decided to shut down this event.
Why would Boynton Beach prevent the continuation of this positive, vital event that's been making serious inroads in the arts community and bringing family-friendly events to an area that once stood drab and idle?
"Boynton Beach finally did something before Miami and Delray Beach: It banned its own signature, award-winning art walk. Go figure that one out," Barrero told New Times in an interview this morning. "Our art walk is the only event where all our studios are all open. It's our bread and butter, when we make the most sales and establish the most contacts."
It's been 33 days since the City of Boynton Beach issued a ban on the art walk, which takes place every third Thursday of the month. Barrero states that the city lied to the Sun Sentinel in a recent article on this situation. It was there officials said he didn't have proper permitting to continue the art walk. "That's not exactly true," stated Barrero. "Under the old permits law, we never needed to pull permits, as our art walks never had more than 200 people in attendance." Current laws dictate that a permit must be requested for any event that has an expected attendance of more than 300 people. The city doesn't even have a formal permitting system for monthly events.
Barrero tells us that he did pull permits for the three popular events BBAD organized this year -- the Golden Celebration in October, KeroWACKED, and ARTal'FRESCO, both in February.
The notice to shut down the art walk was sent on June 19, which Barrero feels was a reaction to a hip-hop event called Control.Alt.Create. "Someone in the mayor's office caught wind of this event, and they immediately began to give us trouble," Barrero says, adding that that's when the city started creating many obstacles, issuing concerns about proper parking and lighting in the area. According to Barrero, it even went so far as to go behind his back and contact event vendors directly, mandating that they needed to obtain stationary permits of $250 to participate.
"We were able to clear everything up with the city and had a great turnout anyways. People of different cultures and colors showed up with lots of kids even bringing their parents. That was amazing to me. It turned out to be a great family event."
Not long afterward came the cease-and-desist order from Boynton Beach. "They asked us to suspend all monthly events; now anytime a small group group gathers at BBAD, we need to pull a permit," said Barrero. "The city added stipulations too: We cannot have special events on any major holidays and during anytime the CRA is having an event itself. That doesn't leave us with many options."
We asked Barrero if this shutdown was just bureaucrats enamored of placing a swath of red tape on everything or if there was something deeper going on. He feels that the ban on the art walk isn't personal, but he does suggest that the city has an ulterior motive. "This is a development issue; the city is desperately trying to establish an arts district in downtown Boynton Beach." The city would like to move BBAD's popular events to Ocean Avenue, an area Barrero calls "a little hiccup between 1-95 and the beach."
"I've gone with the CRA to look at spaces, and until they develop a real downtown, there is just no room for artists to succeed in that part of town."
Barrero calls what the city is doing a "gentrification way of thinking... To quell something like BBAD that has gotten so much momentum and try to create another district doesn't make sense. You don't plan out organic movements like these; they just happen." He cites the failure of Delray Beach and its attempts to move galleries to Pineapple Grove area as a prime example.
He manages ten studios at BBAD, with folks ranging from visual arts to those involved in making jewelry. He also thinks the city may try to go after each artist and ask them to get individual business licenses.
The art walks have been going strong for four years this August, and Barrero tells us he has never had any problems. "The city has told us that the event is not safe for the public because it's in a depressed area, but we've never had any incidents." In four years' time, there have been no cars towed, no problems with double parking, and no one has ever been cited for disorderly conduct. The only small occurrence was when an attendee with low blood sugar fainted. Barrero tells us the ambulance was able to arrive with no issues and the EMTs went in and out with ease.
"We cater to a family-friendly crowd and advertise to not only the artist community but to Boynton Beach's elderly community as well," he explained. Time is money for Barrero who is anxiously waiting for the city to lift the ban on BBAD's number-one moneymaker. The city has delayed in settling this dispute, Barrero says, because it has been busy finalizing Boynton Beach's budget this past month. "It's funny, while [the city government] is sitting there counting beans, they have effectively cut off our revenue stream."
Boynton Beach has scheduled a sitdown with Barrero for August 1, where it hopes to come to an agreement with BBAD.
We reached out to the City of Boynton Beach for comment and had a very brief conversation with Elinore Krusell, the city's communications director. "I'm not going to offer any more comments on this issue," Krusell said. "We are very confident that we can move forward to striking a resolution with Rolando when we have our scheduled meeting August 1."
In the meantime, supporters of BBAD can click on its Facebook page to find out where they can voice their frustrations and show support for this instrumental Palm Beach County institution.