Current artists: Amon Azizov, Wei Chen, Qiao Fu, Gao Min, Guo Kun Sheug, Artashes Karslian, Ji Yin Jin, Li Qun, Lin Ruo, Dean Lu, Ren Jien-Guo, Jorge Rivera, Sharif Sadiq, Peter Walsh, Xiang Yue Chuan, Dario Zapata, Zhuang Xuemin

Organized by Peter Walsh, Ongoing.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Musicians Booted from Washington Square Park

New York City Parks Department PEP officers have begun issuing tickets to musicians and other performers who ask for donations in Manhattan’s famed Washington Square Park. The park has been a meeting place for street musicians and their fans since it became a haven for the emerging folk music movement in the 1940s, more than 60 years ago.

For comprehensive coverage of the situation see Geoffrey Croft’s A Walk In the Park blog post “Bloomberg $ Cracks Down On Performers In Washington Square Park Ticket Blitz.” The post includes a dozen links to other articles.

Why now?

Although none of the major news outlets such as the New York Times have acknowledged it, the crackdown appears to be in direct response to street art vendors’ legal suits against the Bloomberg Administration’s new rules on “expressive matter” vending in public parks. The new rules have been in effect since July 2011 when a panel of state appellate judges vacated a temporary restraining order blocking the city from implementing the rules.

During the ongoing suits in both state and federal courts, visual artists have accused the city of selective enforcement of the rules. Ticketing musicians and other performers is likely an attempt to send a message to the courts that this is not true.

What’s different about this new crackdown on artists and musicians?

For the first time in the battle over the new rules, the city is issuing tickets enforcing a new rule that makes it illegal for artists, musicians and performers to operate within fifty foot of monuments (including park features like Washington Square Park’s fountain) and within five foot of park benches.

According to an email distributed on December 7, 2011 by artist Robert Lederman, who is the President of the street artists organization A.R.T.I.S.T. and a plaintiff in the federal court case against the city, “In Washington Square Park, as in many other NYC Parks, 50 feet from a monument alone precludes the entire park from First Amendment activity. The arch, the fountain and all statues and plaques are considered monuments. PEP officers have stated on video that in WSP there is no place for an artist or performer to legally set up, under these new rules.”

So what?

Officials and attorneys representing the New York City Department of Parks have repeatedly stated in both state and federal court that artists who are unable to secure an authorized “green medallion” spot created by the new rules in Central Park, Union Square Park, Battery Park and the High Line can simply decamp to other parks and locations. What the new crackdown against musicians and performers in Washington Square Park suggests is that those city officials and attorneys have been misrepresenting the scope and restrictiveness of the new rules. It should be interesting to see how the judges in those cases (Federal District Court Judge Richard J. Sullivan and Justice Milton A. Tingling, Jr. of the New York State Supreme Court) respond to evidence that they have been misled.

Update:

Community Board 2 will be holding a "Washington Square Park Speak Out" on Monday, December 19th at 6:30pm at NYU's Kimmel Center, 60 WSP South, 8th floor. If you want to email comments, send them to washingtonsquareparkspeakout@gmail.com.