Report from Washington Square Park Speakout on Artists’ Rights

Robert Lederman is president of ARTIST and a community activist.

On December 19th, Community Board #2 held a public speakout
about the recent blitz of summonses issued to artists, performers and
musicians in Washington Square Park under the new Park rules for
artists. Click here for the full audio (a minute or two
in the beginning is hard to make out, the rest is very clear).

It was standing room only.

The crowd consisted primarily of residents who live right around or
near the park (many of whom have been there for most of their lives)
plus a sizeable number of artists and musicians who regularly work in
the park. Also present were elected officials, representatives of
elected officials and advocates for both parks and for free speech.

Manhattan Park Commissioner William Castro testified in support of the
park rules on behalf of the City.

Everyone was allowed to testify. Without a single exception (other
than Commissioner Castro) everyone present was 100% against the park
rules being applied to artists, musicians and performers. The
testimony was interesting, well-informed, emotionally moving and very
entertaining. It included an opera aria, original poetry and a stand
up comedy routine about the park rules.

I’ve been to many community meetings during the past 18 years of
fighting for street artists’ rights. Usually, there is a mixture of
residents who are in favor of artists working in parks and on the
streets, a similar number who are against artists and a substantial
number who are quite indifferent to us.

This was the most positive response I’ve ever seen. The consensus was
that the park rules must be revoked and that these restrictions are
literally destroying the culture and identity of the West Village
community, of which Washington Square Park is the historical center.

When the Parks Department suddenly decided to begin enforcing these
absurd rules against musicians and performers as a response to our
lawsuit, they exposed themselves to the wrath of a local community
known for its activism.

* NY State Assembly member Deborah Glick on WSP crackdown

From Assembly member Glick’s email newsletter dated 12/19/2011

Urging Parks Department to Stop Ticketing West Village Performers
In a letter to Commissioner Benepe of the New York City Department of
Parks and Recreation, I expressed my extreme consternation over the
recent flurry of summonses issued by the Parks Department to
performers in WashingtonSquarePark.  Theses actions appear to be an
infringement on their First Amendment rights. Additionally, theses
restrictions impede upon the cultural tradition of street performances
that has helped define New York City, and in particular Greenwich
Village for many years. It is during the holiday season when New York
City residents and tourists alike flock to our City's beautiful and
historic parks to see decorations as well as local performances.
Therefore, it seems that the City is hurting performers and tourists
by ticketing these popular attractions and diminishing the ambiance
that has long characterized Washington Square Park.

I urged the Parks Department to reconsider the recent practice of
ticketing individuals who are performing within 50 feet of a city
monument, especially in such places as Washington Square Park where
there are very few if any locations which could be consistent with
that requirement. Furthermore the regulation, which specifies that
vendors may not be within 50 feet of unauthorized locations, is
ambiguous as it covers not only food vendors and merchandise purveyors
but artists and musicians as well. I proposed that the term "vendors'
be elaborated upon in this definition to exempt street performers. To
not do so would be to eliminate so much of the vibrant culture and
performing arts that has become part of life in Greenwich Village.

In June of 2010 the Parks Department announced a drastic revision
to the park rules, specifically targeting visual artists. The rules
revision was a deception from the beginning. The stated purpose of the
rule change was to reduce the number of street artists, reduce
pedestrian congestion, reduce commercialism and improve park
aesthetics. Judges, many community people and the entire NY media
initially fell for this seemingly reasonable cover story. It was a

 If you examine the 4 parks where these rules were initially enforced
(Union Sq Park, The High Line, Central Park at Columbus Circle and
Battery Park), you will see that the Parks Dept has replaced a handful
of street artists temporarily selling their own art under the
protection of the First Amendment for a few hours a day with hundreds
of non First Amendment protected corporate vending concessions selling
food, souvenirs, gifts, beer and wine as well as almost daily
corporate promotions.

 In this video an NYPD public safety officer assigned to the Union Sq
Holiday Market, admits it is unsafe for the public:

Recently, in a misguided attempt to defeat a Federal lawsuit about
the rule change, Lederman et al v Parks Department, the City has begun
enforcing these restrictions in all NYC Parks against musicians,
performers and public speakers.

The city knowingly lied to the judge in this lawsuit, claiming that
aside from the very limited number of artist-medallion spots in 4
parks that there are still “28,000 acres of park land available for
use by street artists.” Yet, if one applies the newly required
distances from monuments, trees, signs, walls, fences and benches
contained in the new rules to Washington Square Park (or to any other
NYC park) it quickly becomes clear that virtually 100% of NYC park
land is now off limits to those exercising their First Amendment

The handful of medallion spots set aside for visual artists in 4
parks was a red herring intended to trick community boards all over NY
into believing that these revised rules would have no effect on other
parks and would only affect street artists. The reality is that these
rules virtually eliminate free speech in public parks and that the
drastic restrictions affect everyone – including musicians,
performers, activists and public speakers.

While claiming to be a great supporter of freedom, public space and
artistic expression, Mayor Bloomberg has outdone Giuliani in
privatizing parks, repressing artists’ rights and trashing free
speech. Most recently, his efforts to smash the OWS protests included
having police arrest reporters, pepper spray and beat non violent
protestors and ordering a massive number of completely false arrests.
All of it was done to protect the interests of a real estate
corporation the Mayor is associated with.

The bottom line: The entire park privatization agenda, of which the
rule revision is just one small part, is a thinly veiled real estate
scam intended to enrich the Mayor’s wealthiest friends at the expense
of the entire public. Park Commissioner Benepe is a puppet of the park
conservancies. He is Bloomberg’s real estate agent, selling off our
public parks to the highest corporate bidder.

For evidence of what the Park rules were really intended for, see
this document:
Robert Lederman, president of ARTIST    (201) 777-0391