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PARIS (Reuters Life!) - The dozens of painters who sell portraits, street views and skylines in the colorful Montmartre district of Paris are furious about the city's plans to triple the cost of renting their patches.
The rent for a square meter patch on the Place du Tertre in Montmartre, a square bristling with painters vying fiercely to sell passing tourists quick-sketch portraits or luridly colored views of Paris, is set to rise to 554 euros ($807.2) from 160 euros.
Infuriated, the artists say it's only thanks to them that swarms of tourists flock to the area every year.
"The 18th district and Montmartre became famous because there were some great names of painting that worked here," said Vladimir, a local artist who declined to give his last name.
"We are the inheritors of this reputation, which we must maintain with our work, our presence, our behavior and the way we greet people from all over the world," he added.
Adding insult to injury, in the course of making their complaints, artists have discovered that the city council classifies them as "hawkers" rather than "artists."
"The question is that the town hall just doesn't respect us," Midani M'Barki, president of a local artists' association, told Reuters Television.
"It's treating us like chestnut or cake sellers. But we are artists. The entire world comes here because there are artists."
The artists plan to make a complaint to the administrative tribunal to have the planned rent rise canceled. A petition organized by artists has garnered hundreds of signatures.
The city council, however, says the complaints are overblown.
"The season at Montmartre lasts quite a long time. And people say that several thousand euros can be made every week. So we've got to keep things in perspective," said Daniel Vaillant, mayor of Paris' 18th district.
The price rise would come during a crisis that has already taken a heavy toll on artists, said Martine Mabilleau, member of painters' association "Carre ouvert."
Although one of her portraits generally sells for between 50 and 70 euros, these days she can be bargained down to as little as 15 to 20 euros, Mabilleau said.
The campaign has been met with dismay by some tourists.
"I think it would be awful. This is why people come here. This is a very unique part of Paris. I don't think they should do that. Because people wouldn't be able to afford to set up shop here," said Jennifer, a tourist from the United States.
Others were more resigned.
"Everywhere that places are popular, the rent increases. It's inevitable. It's everywhere," said Dmitri from Canada. (Additional reporting by Clement Dossin; Writing by Sophie Taylor, editing by Paul Casciato)