Since 1972, the Street Artists Program, under the direction of the San Francisco Arts Commission, has encouraged talented artists by licensing them to sell their work on the city’s bustling streets. Today, about 400 artists join in an unparalleled City program that champions their efforts as businesspeople and as artists.

The individuals who spearheaded the street artist movement, which resulted in the founding of the Street Artist Program were William J. Clark, Warren Garrick Nettles and Frank Whyte.

In 1971, Mayor Joseph L. Alioto met with Mr. Clark and Mr. Nettles, the representatives of the San Francisco Street Artist Guild, a grassroots organization composed of local street artists. They convinced Mayor Alioto to sign legislation that was being presented to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors by the San Francisco Street Artist Guild to create the Street Artists Program. Enacted in 1972, it was the first ordinance to license the street artists, and it gave the licensing authority to the Arts Commission.  It also gave the Board of Supervisors authority to restrict the street artists to designated locations to sell their arts and crafts.

Further enhancements to the program were made two years later when Mr. Clark authored Proposition J. The first street artist ballot measure ever approved by the San Francisco voters, Proposition J was an initiative ordinance placed on the June 4, 1974 municipal ballot after 20,000 signatures of registered voters were collected by active street artists. The proposition removed the authority of the Board of Supervisors to restrict where street artists could sell their art or craft items and mandated the City to issue Police Peddler Permits and General Peddler Licenses to street artists who were certified by the Arts Commission. This enabled street artists to sell their art or craft items on public sidewalks throughout San Francisco for the first time in San Francisco history.

Subsequently, however, the Board of Supervisors  placed  Proposition L  on the November 5, 1975 municipal ballot  to repeal Proposition J  in order to reinstate the authority of   the Board to restrict  street artist locations.   Proposition L, like its predecessor, was passed by the voters. To this day, it remains the mandate under which the Arts Commission continues to license the street artists.

Enterprising street artists delight shoppers with the variety of their handcrafted wares—from amber earrings to wooden sculptures—in some of the city’s most-frequented areas: Fisherman’s Wharf, Downtown, and Union Square.

Together, store owners and street artists build a community, sharing San Francisco’s streets—and its rich commerce. The city’s reputation as a mecca for art and culture grows beyond the interiors of its celebrated galleries and museums to include its streets.

The artists must demonstrate to a screening committee appointed by the Mayor that they make the artwork they sell. In return, they receive certificates licensing them to sell their work in the spaces designated by the Board of Supervisors. Every morning, the artists hold a lottery at Fisherman’s Wharf to determine which space each will have for the day.

The voter-mandated Street Artists Program, recognized with “Street Artists Day” proclamations by the Mayor on November 1, 1991, and the Board of Supervisors on September 20, 1997, benefits artists, art-minded San Franciscans, and visitors from around the globe.

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