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Workshop canceled to protest city tax

By LENNIE BENNETT

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 11, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- For some local artists, it is not a pretty picture.

The Occupational Tax Section of the city is cracking down on an ordinance that requires artists who create works for sale in their homes or home studios, or who teach classes as independent contractors and not as employees of an organization, to have an occupational license.

One of the artists has canceled a workshop at the Arts Center in protest. "I object to having a license," said Mary Alice Braukman. "And I'm not going to have one. I'll just teach out of state."

Braukman, a highly regarded watercolorist who is asked to judge shows and teach workshops throughout the United States, declined an invitation to return to the Arts Center for a reprise of her popular class.

"She said she won't on principle," said the center's education director, Mich Sullivan. Sullivan said that except for Braukman's workshop, no other summer session classes, which serve about 2,000 adults and children, have been canceled.

"This ordinance dates back to the 1800s," said Joan Smith, supervisor of the Occupational Tax Section. "They should have been paying it all along."

Smith said the tax "applies to just about anybody who works for themselves, restaurant owners, store owners, professionals. Taxi cabs and vending machine owners are examples."

"I think it's like an attack," said Dan Meisner, a clay artist who has taught at the Arts Center for about a decade and who has a home studio. "It's unfair, being penalized for making beauty."

Meisner and other artists were notified of their tax obligations last fall, after the city requested a list of instructors from the Arts Center.

"The idea of needing a license to paint in my home," said Braukman. "When I designed stationery, I considered myself a wholesaler and had a license. But I take everything to a gallery, I don't sell anything out of my home and I pay sales tax. The next thing you know, you'll have to have a license to bake a cake to take to a bake sale."

Smith said her department is not singling out artists.

"All the instructors at our city youth centers have to have licenses," she said, "because they are not city employees."

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