Despite efforts to keep their venues legal, two arts purveyors have announced they're going on hiatus.
Every morning for three-and-a-half years, Caroline Picard set out a sandwich board on the sidewalk in front of her Wicker Park gallery, Green Lantern (1511 N Milwaukee Ave), where she also lives. Then, one Friday in January, an inspector for the Department of Business Affairs and Licensing showed up on the doorstep of Green Lantern, tangling Picard in municipal red tape that’s forced her to announce she’s temporarily shutting down in June 2009. The inspector asked the volunteers on duty to produce a permit for the sidewalk sign. “Of course, I didn’t have one,” she says. As she later found out from visiting the alderman’s office, all sandwich boards are illegal.
The inspector also asked to see Picard’s business license, which she lacked. “I always assumed that because Green Lantern is a 501(c)(3), I didn’t need a business license,” she told the inspector. After snapping photographs of the space as evidence, the inspector fined Picard $440, a combination of the licensing and sandwich-board violations. (He also fined Picard’s landlord for the Singer Sewing machine sign in the front window, which wasn’t licensed.)
Taking the incident as a hard-knocks education, Picard quickly set out to legitimize her space. At City Hall, she says, employees of the Department of Zoning said they’d have to look into the building’s zoning before granting her a home-based business license. In the interim, Picard kept the doors of Green Lantern open. Soon, another inspector came knocking and fined her again for operating without a license.
Returning to City Hall, Picard was told her space didn’t meet regulations for a home-based business license, which limits the percentage of living space and the amount of visitors. “I asked if I’d be eligible for a commercial business license if I moved out, but they said my landlord would have to apply to change the zoning on the whole building, which would be messy and expensive,” she says.
With plans to reopen in September 2010, Picard will reluctantly close Green Lantern after finishing out the season with two final shows. By keeping those events invite-only “private parties,” an independent promoter–friendly gray area in the city’s licensing laws, Picard hopes she can keep the inspectors at bay.