By John Dooley

Although Pearl District galleries throw open their doors the first Thursday of every month, some artists are complaining that the event is becoming increasingly restrictive. It is not a new complaint. A few years ago, the Urban Art Collective (UAC) received permits to carve out an area in order to accommodate those artists not showing their works in the upscale galleries, but who still wanted to be involved. But now, even that accommodation is weathering complaints about elitism. Worse yet, the police have begun to chase out artists not willing to play along with these rules.

For the past few months, those artists not wishing to be corralled in the designated area at NW 13th between Hoyt and Irving--or not allowed in--have simply hawked their goods from any available sidewalk space. But last month the police swept through the area on First Thursday and evicted those renegade artists. Those caught outside the encampment are subject to fines for "blocking the public right of way" and "vending without a permit."

In reaction to the crackdown, street artist Lex Loeb is organizing what he called a "massive petition drive" for August's First Thursday (August 7). He hopes that a public outcry will stop what he sees as bureaucratic pressure against "unauthorized free spirits."

"Why are artists being kicked off the streets?" asks Loeb. "Just so we can be herded into a closed-off street and pay 20 bucks?" (UAC charges $20 for artists to show their works within the designated space.)

Peyto Yellin, the director for UAC, agrees that First Thursday has left sidewalk artists like Loeb little choice: Either work with the UAC or get lost.

"It's a real catch-22," says Yellin. "With our permit, we claim some of the public right of way for the artists. Unfortunately, with only one street, we cannot accommodate all the artists who want to show their work."

He adds that the jury process that determines who is allowed into the space does not admit every artist. "It is true that we cannot accommodate everyone," Yellin admits. But, he adds, "not everyone wants to be 'accommodated.'"

Loeb will be collecting signatures this First Thursday.