Will Performance Crackdown – Ticketing and Fining of Entertainers and Buskers – Be Reinstated at WSP?

This blog broke the story on May 10th — “City Reverses course of performance crackdown at Washington Square Park – no more fining of “entertainers and buskers”” — and all seemed right in the world. So, I was not sure what to think when I got the word yesterday from artist and activist (and artists’ activist) Robert Lederman that the reversal of the performance crackdown may be short lived and fining and ticketing may resume at the park. Lederman has a lawsuit ongoing against in the city in relation to the “expressive matter vending rules,” put into place by the Bloomberg Administration in 2010, which limit artists and artistic expression, previously protected by the First Amendment, in public parks. The “expressive matter” rules began being applied to musicians and buskers in the fall at WSP. After community outcry, the Parks Department seemed to back down. Common sense prevailed. And now this. It’s a bit confusing to say the least.

WSP Blog story May 10th:

In a victory for the community and park goers, the New York City Parks Department has quietly reversed their policy of ticketing and fining of musicians within 50 feet of the fountain or monument (such as the Arch, Garibaldi) or 5 feet from benches in Washington Square Park. This new “rule” was first implemented in the fall of last year; once uncovered, it sparked tremendous outcry and negative press. These rules basically set off-limits large swaths of the park (pretty much all performance public space) and restricted musicians from performing as they traditionally always have at Washington Square Park.

Through the diligent work of Community Board 2 which held a public hearing and issued a letter to the Parks Commissioner (proclaiming the rules as “overly restrictive and unnecessary”), New York City Park Advocates, which held a press conference and worked with lawyers Norman Siegel and Ron Kuby and the artists, media coverage, and the community and artists speaking out, this rule is no longer in effect.

Parks Department spokesperson Phil Abramson confirmed, “Busking and entertainers are not subject to the expressive matter vending rule.” He added, “They must still abide by other park rules though such as they cannot block benches or paths, play with amplified sound, etc.”

So, although not technically admitting a reversal in policy, the Parks Department previously had been applying the “expressive matter vending rule” mentioned above – set up primarily to regulate the locations of street artists in public parksto the musicians performing in WSP. That is no longer the case. At least the city agency was willing to switch course. In addition, all summonses previously issued were dismissed. Yay!

Now, from yesterday’s (6/6) Village Voice, “Will the City Ban Performers from Parks Again?”:

[Robert] Lederman said that in mid-May, the city changed its enforcement practices for performing artists, allowing them to set up near park monuments and benches, but failed to inform the Southern District court that it had done so. On June 4, the Corporation Counsel for New York City — which represents the Mayor’s Office and city agencies in legal matters — said that the reprieve was only temporary and that buskers and other performers would again be subject to summons and arrests if they broke the rules.

and ….

Broken down … the City seems to claim that the vending rules always applied to entertainers, but have just been put on temporary hiatus because another lawsuit (“Skyline”) puts to question the regulations. This seems to directly contradict what Department told us — that these guidelines never applied to entertainers in the first place.

Again, here’s what we were told earlier: “The expressive matter rules have not changed. Generally, expressive matter vending rules do not apply to buskers and entertainers.”

So, judging from these filings, it seems that the Department has two planned moves: if Skyline goes in its favor, then it will apply the “expressive matter” rule to entertainers again, meaning they won’t be able to perform. If Skyline doesn’t go in its favor, looks like Parks and Rec might try to figure out other ways to give them the boot, as it “will consider other solutions to address its interests.”

As far as what “Skyline” is… this explanation is from Robert Lederman:

The City’s response … is that the cessation of summonsing performers is only temporary and is due solely to the Skyline ruling, which is about guys selling tickets to the Empire State Building simulated helicopter ride on the sidewalk outside the Empire State building.

??

From today’s 6/7 The Villager “City changes its tune yet again on buskers in parks”:

“I told them [community board] — you think this is just going to affect street artists,” [Robert Lederman] said. “It’s going to affect everybody. They thought that wasn’t true. Then Parks started arresting performers [in Washington Square Park] that people love, and [the community boards] started seeing it is true.

“The full expression of it hasn’t happened yet,” Lederman warned. “Wait until they start arresting people for putting out a table with political literature and a donation can. Then they’ll see what this is really about. It’s about totally taking away the right of freedom of speech in parks.”

Strangely, I don’t think the Villager ever reported that the reversal happened – after being the ones to break the original story back in October.

I have to give a nod to Community Board 2 Chair Brad Hoylman who in all his comments warned to keep an eye out for the possibility of the fining and ticketing reoccurring. Even so, I really hope this does not come to bear. I think the Parks Department got caught in a legal maneuver and is now bound up in their own rules, which never should have been installed to begin with.

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City Reverses Course on Performance Crackdown at Washington Square Park – No More Ticketing and Fining of “Entertainers and Buskers”

Updated

Performing Under the Arch

Updated May 11th, 1:04 p.m. — In a victory for the community and park goers, the New York City Parks Department has quietly reversed their policy of ticketing and fining of musicians within 50 feet of the fountain or monument (such as the Arch, Garibaldi) or 5 feet from benches in Washington Square Park. This new “rule” was first implemented in the fall of last year; once uncovered, it sparked tremendous outcry and negative press. These rules basically set off-limits large swaths of the park (pretty much all performance public space) and restricted musicians from performing as they traditionally always have at Washington Square Park.

Through the diligent work of Community Board 2 which held a public hearing and issued a letter to the Parks Commissioner (proclaiming the rules as “overly restrictive and unnecessary”), New York City Park Advocates, which held a press conference and worked with lawyers Norman Siegel and Ron Kuby and the artists, media coverage, and the community and artists speaking out, this rule is no longer in effect.

Parks Department spokesperson Phil Abramson confirmed, “Busking and entertainers are not subject to the expressive matter vending rule.” He added, “They must still abide by other park rules though such as they cannot block benches or paths, play with amplified sound, etc.”

So, although not technically admitting a reversal in policy, the Parks Department previously had been applying the “expressive matter vending rule” mentioned above – set up primarily to regulate the locations of street artists in public parksto the musicians performing in WSP. That is no longer the case. At least the city agency was willing to switch course. In addition, all summonses previously issued were dismissed. Yay!

Community Board 2 Chair Brad Hoylman commented, “Community Board 2 held a successful speak-out in December to enlist public support against the practice of ticketing performers in the park. We followed up with a resolution to the Parks Department and have since been informed that they’ve halted the practice. I’m very pleased with this result, but park lovers need to continue to monitor the situation and inform the community board if the summonses start again during the summer months.”

The Villager first reported the story in their October 27th, 2011 issue as musicians and artists at the park reported getting ticketed and fined. A New York Times story on December 4th amplified the matter as other media followed suit and covered the issue. The community and park goers were outraged. Over 100 people spoke at a hearing organized by Community Board 2 on December 19th. Initially, the Parks Department’s position was that the “regulations [were] intended to keep paths clear and allow all park users to move about freely and see monuments and views.”

The impromptu performances by buskers, musicians and entertainers – in which you never quite know what you will experience – have always been considered part of the core experience of visiting Washington Square. And now thankfully they can continue.

******************************************************************************

Previously at WSP Blog:

Community Board 2 Letter to Parks Commissioner: Parks Department Rules at Washington Square “Overly Restrictive and Unnecessary” February 2nd, 2012

Villager on Community Board 2 “Washington Square Speak Out” Public Hearing 12/19 On Performance Crackdown December 28, 2011

On Public Space: The Privatized Union Square Holiday Market and the Performance Crackdown at Washington Square December 15, 2011

Performance Crackdown at the Park — Parks Commissioner Says Bob Dylan Could Still Play At WSP; With New Rules, Is that Even True?” Dec. 6, 2011 (includes links to media coverage at the time)

City Parks Department’s “Regulations” Take Away From the Very Spirit of What People Come to Washington Square Park For – No Performances Allowed Near Fountain, Benches October 28, 2011

Other Media:

The Villager, Musicians are Told to Keep Their Distance — from fountain, seats! October 27, 2011

New York Times, City Cracking Down on Performers in Washington Square Park December 4, 2011

Community Board 2 Letter to Parks Commissioner: Parks Department Rules at Washington Square “Overly Restrictive and Unnecessary”

At its recent full board meeting, Community Board 2 passed a resolution opposing the city Parks Department’s rules that instigated the recent performance crackdown at WSP. The letter below – which the entire board signed on to – was sent to Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe on January 20th.

According to CB 2 Chair Brad Hoylman and District Manager Bob Gormley, no response from the Parks Commissioner has been received as of yet.

January 20, 2012

Adrian Benepe, Commissioner
NYC Department of Parks & Recreation
The Arsenal/Central Park
830 Fifth Avenue
New York, New York 10021

Dear Commissioner Benepe:

At its Full Board Committee meeting on January 19, 2012, Community Board #2, Manhattan
adopted the following resolution:

A Resolution Opposing Enforcement Restricting Performances in Washington Square Park.
Whereas

1. Parks Enforcement has recently issued summonses to musicians and other performers in Washington Square Park; and
2. this new restrictive policy was initiated without discussion with CB2 or prior notice to
performers; and
3. the policy is contrary to park traditions and to promises made by Parks during the design period for reconstruction of the park; and

Whereas the summonses stifled activities that are popular among many park users and
community residents and were harmful to the artists; and
4. Community Board 2 had not received complaints regarding performances in the park; and
5. the summonses were issued as enforcement of new park rules pertaining to sales of expressive materials and other charges such as blocking paths and view of monuments;
and
6. when these rules were presented to Community Board 2 last year there was no mention of their potential use with regard to performers; and
7. CB2 passed a resolution against these rules as overly restrictive and unnecessary; and
8. in Washington Square, the required distances from monuments and benches, clearances on paths, and restrictions on lawns, appear to leave no legal locations for performances for sale of expressive materials; and
9. CB2 believes the application of the rules to performers are inappropriate in that performers are not vendors because anyone is free to watch the performances whether they contribute or not, and
10. 25 performers, park users, and residents spoke at a public Speak Out organized by CB2 in support of the performers; and

Therefore it is resolved that

1. CB2 expresses its consternation regarding the issuance of summonses to performers and
requests that all summonses that have been issued be dismissed;
and
2. CB2 requests a statement of Parks policy regarding future enforcement initiatives or any other restrictions related to performers or other expressive activities in CB2 be referred to CB2 prior to their enactment ; and
3. CB2 requests reconsideration and replacement of current rules pertaining to artists
selling their works and other expressive activities in Parks; and
4. CB2 requests the use of great care in the formulation of any rules, policies, and enforcement initiatives regulating First Amendment rights in Parks, with the broadest possible public discussion to assure that such regulation does not exceed what is required to provide for safe enjoyment of the parks.

Vote: Unanimous, with 39 Board members in favor.

Please advise us of any decision or action taken in response to this resolution.

Sincerely,
Brad Hoylman, Chair, Community Board #2, Manhattan
Tobi Bergman, Chair, Parks, Recreation & Open Space Committee Community Board #2, Manhattan
BH/gh

c: Hon. Jerrold L. Nadler, Congressman
Hon. Thomas K. Duane, NY State Senator
Hon. Daniel L. Squadron, NY State Senator
Hon. Sheldon Silver, Assembly Speaker
Hon. Deborah J. Glick, Assembly Member
Hon. Christine C. Quinn, Council Speaker
Hon. Margaret Chin, Council Member
Hon. Rosie Mendez, Council Member
Jessica Silver, Man. Borough President’s office
Pauline Yu, CAU
William T. Castro, Man. Boro. Commissioner, DPR

WSP Performance Crackdown; NYU Expansion on CB2 Parks Committee Agenda Tonight, Thurs. Jan. 12th

Updated

The WSP performance crackdown is on the agenda at tonight’s Community Board 2 Parks Committee meeting, 6:30 p.m. Our Lady of Pompeii Church, 25 Carmine Street, Father Demo Hall (enter on Bleecker) [venue has been changed from what was previously announced].

The addressing of the controversial new rules (on hold temporarily) is now scheduled for an “executive session.” Previously announced as an opportunity for public comment; it was stated that this topic was being moved to February’s meeting in order “to allow more time for public comment.”

Now, the CB2 website states, that, during the closed session, the committee “will consider a resolution reiterating a prior position opposing a Parks Department rule regarding public expression in parks and including its recent use to restrict un-amplified performances in Washington Square.”

Update from CB2 Chair Brad Hoylman: It was decided that there had been “enough public comment” and that “It’s not fair to ask people to come out again (and again, and…).” He is hoping that a resolution will be drafted by the committee.

The main part of the meeting which is open for public comment focuses on the “NYU 2031 Campus Expansion Plan.” I’d be curious to see how (Parks Committee Chair) Tobi Bergman handles this group since he dodges a bit on issues related to WSP (and gets away with it).

This is certain to recruit a large crowd. There will be a presentation of the plan and discussion of how NYU’s plans affect “open space and related issues” as well as NYC Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). It is noted that “Public input at this hearing will inform the Community Board 2 recommendation.

Alternate View on Performers at WSP – Time Limits?

The WSP performance crackdown has, seemingly, temporarily subsided and will be addressed at the CB2 Parks Committee meeting tonight.

In the meantime, a neighbor, Seth W. who lives at 2 Fifth Avenue wrote in as follows:

I live in 2 Fifth and face the arch and have always enjoyed the music echoing in but now it has become disruptive. My position is simply: let music be part of Washington Square Park so long as the performers vary their music and do not stay more than one hour so that we can hear different musicians and instruments. VARIETY is what is needed and not the same music like those singers who now are found outside the Met Museum of art doing the same songs over and over. Send these musicians who also put out their hats or music cases like the banjo player, etc. to the Met, keep our park open to musicians who have practiced and come to give a performance for no longer than an hour and move on.

Seth writes, that, for him, the music became more noticeably disruptive (my word, not his) in the Fall. He says that certain performers are “most egregious in staying too long and … never stopping and endlessly repeating their solos.”

At the CB2 meeting last month, more than one performer cited the Arch as having perfect acoustics and, indeed, the Opera Gals told me “the Arch is the spot to sing.”

Seth also believes that “NO MUSIC be performed under the arch for it is an echo chamber that blasts onto 5th Ave and into our apartments. I will defend the right for music to be played in the park but limits are needed and stopped by 10 at night.”

To me, this becomes a slippery slope – the minute you attempt to put restrictions on this and the Parks Department’s way of going about this is bad enough. I’m open to airing an alternative viewpoint. Why any sound issues would have changed more recently from 50 years of performances in the park; what the park is known for, I don’t know.

New York Daily News: Musicians performing again at Washington Square

Philippe Petit Washington Square

New York Daily News, January 1st: Street artists say they’re performing again without fear of big fines in Washington Square Park

Artists who had been slapped with huge fines for performing in Washington Square Park say the rule is no longer being enforced — and many of their outstanding tickets were suddenly dismissed.

Maybe they are re-thinking their approach,” said Colin Huggins, who said he’s been hit with nine summonses totaling $6,000 for playing his baby grand piano between the park’s famed arch and its empty fountain.

A spokeswoman for the Parks Department insisted “the rules remain in effect.”

Still, performers say they haven’t been hassled in the three weeks since civil rights heavyhitters Ronald Kuby and Norman Siegel took the case on behalf of the ticketed buskers.

They are due back in court Jan. 31.

The rule, which applies to parks citywide, went into effect about a year ago and prohibits artists who collect tips from performing within 50 feet of a monument or landmark. It wasn’t until October that performers reported being hit with the steep fines.

At a recent community board meeting, Manhattan Borough Parks Commissioner Williams Castro hinted the city may be re-considering the rules.

We are mindful of the concerns raised by some park patrons and we are further reviewing the impact of these rules in Washington Square Park,” Castro said.

Note photo above of Philippe Petit at WSPthe two trees that he used to perform between at Washington Square were torn down last year; despite assurances from the Parks Department that they would remain.

Previously on WSP Blog: Performance Crackdown at the Park — Parks Commissioner says Bob Dylan Could Still Play at WSP; With New Rules, Is That even True? December 6, 2011

Photo via New York Daily News: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Villager on CB2’s “Washington Square Speak Out” Hearing On Performance Crackdown

I was going to write up my own impressions of the Community Board 2 Public hearing – “Washington Square Speak Out” – held on December 19th on the performance crackdown at WSP. However, Albert Amateau at The Villager did such a great job reporting on the meeting that I’ve excerpted his piece, A symphony of no’s on Parks’ musician rules at speak-out”, here:

There was only one speaker on Monday in favor of the Parks Department’s citing musicians and other performers in Washington Square Park for violating park rules. The lone supporter was Bill Castro, Manhattan borough Parks Department commissioner, who told a packed audience that the recently enforced rules still allow buskers plenty of room to perform in Washington Square — as long as they’re 50 feet from any monument and 5 feet from a bench.

“The rules are not intended to ban performers from this or any other park, regardless of whether they solicit or accept contributions,” Castro said.

“The department seeks to regulate and accommodate a variety of activities and uses,” Castro added, but he promised that the department would review and reconsider the enforcement policy that began in the park around May. The rules only apply to buskers, meaning performers who accept cash contributions.

Given that Washington Square, the spawning ground in decades past of music luminaries including Bob Dylan, Judy Collins and Joan Baez, has benches along its paths and large monuments, including the iconic arch, the central fountain, the Garibaldi statue and the monument to Alexander Lyman Holley, the claim of “plenty of room” rang hollow.

All others at the Dec. 19 speak-out, sponsored by Community Board 2 and its Parks Committee, called for an end to what they called an anti-life and hypocritical enforcement effort.

Indeed, one speaker, Mitchel Cohen, mocked the rules, saying he was in favor of barring musicians because they interrupted the sound of jackhammers and sirens and they prevented people from getting close to the monuments.

“Everybody knows that people come to Washington Square Park from all over the world to see the Holley Monument,” Cohen quipped.

Gregory Nissen, a theater composer and pianist, introduced himself as Robert Zimmerman who just blew in from Minneapolis with his banjo, but decided to leave because the cops wouldn’t let him play in Washington Square.

Katie Kat, a soprano and voice instructor at New York University who performs under the arch (“great acoustics”) with her partner, Roxanne Walitzki, sang part of an aria from Puccini’s “La Bohème” at the end of her remarks and won admiring applause.

C.B. 2 members Keen Berger and Doris Diether, both speaking as individuals, urged an end to the enforcement.

Berger, a resident near Washington Square for 47 years, said she has visited the park at least 2,000 times. She said she cherished the music and didn’t recall negative reactions against performers.

Diether reminded the forum that performance in Washington Square dates back more than 50 years.

“This is ridiculous,” Diether said about the enforcement, which she recalled started two or three months ago. “First, they said that musicians were blocking the pathways. Then, they said there was no solicitation in the park. The rules are idiotic and the Parks commissioner [Adrian Benepe] should be told they’re idiotic and they should be thrown out,” Diether said.

“The people who perform are the people who keep the park safe,” said Susan Goren, a regular parkgoer known as “The Squirrel Whisperer.” The rules, she said, are eliminating what people find joyful in the park.

A longtime jazz performer known as Black Bobby said, “First they came for the black folks. Now, from the look of the audience here tonight [largely white], it seems that there is equality.”

and…

Robert Lederman, president of A.R.T.I.S.T. (Artists’ Response To Illegal State Tactics), reminded the meeting that he has a pending federal lawsuit challenging the city’s rules limiting where artists can vend art and other expressive matter in Union Square, on the High Line and in Central Park and Battery Park. The rules were only imposed on musicians, according to Lederman, after he raised the issue to Parks that musicians were excluded from the Union Square limits, while vendors were forced to abide by them.

Lederman, who cited an editorial, “Don’t ban the buskers” in last week’s issue of The Villager, said the rules practically ban artists and musicians from any New York City park.

The activist said the hypocrisy of the rules is apparent from the city-sponsored holiday markets that pre-empt space in Union Square and other parks.

Lorie Moody, a resident of 2 Fifth Ave., agreed, citing the Greenmarket in Union Square and “the less-than-glorious, white-tented event in Washington Square,” referring to the annual Taste of The Village event under the Washington Square arch.

Colin Huggins, “The Crazy Piano Guy,” who wheels his piano to play in Washington Square and other parks, said he has received summonses that would cost more than $2,000 in fines if they are not eventually dismissed. He said his playing brings people together.

Joe Mangrum, who does sand painting in Union Sq. and Washington Square, has also received numerous summonses.

“New York City is unique because there is this creative freedom,” Mangrum said. The city, he said, appears to be “militarizing’” the park.

“Freedom is the most important thing we have. If you don’t have that you don’t have a country,” Mangrum said.

Ryo Sasaki, a jazz trumpeter, said he came to New York four years ago from Japan because of the music culture. He has been playing in Washington Square Park for three years, “and suddenly this season we cannot do it anymore,” he said. “I learned to play music in school but I never learned how to entertain and communicate with people. Those skills I learned in Washington Square Park,” Sasaki said.

“The city crated a problem that never existed,” said Natalie Albert, a neighborhood resident for 40 years.

On Public Space: The Privatized Union Square Holiday Market and the Performance Crackdown at Washington Square

Union Square Holiday Market

As word of the performance crackdown at Washington Square Park spread in October, Parks Department spokesperson Phil Abramson told the Villager:

“At Washington Square Park the existing regulations are intended to keep paths clear and allow all park users to move about freely and see monuments and views,” said Philip Abramson. He confirmed that performers must stand 5 feet away from benches and cannot perform within 50 feet of a monument or fountain.

To be clear, these “existing regulations” had never existed before. They were written for artist vendors selling their wares (it was controversial with that application) in the city’s public parks. 

The crackdown and ticketing of performers at Washington Square Park has nothing to do with blocking views, paths or monuments. Likewise, the restriction of artists at Union Square Park is not about that.

The Parks Department has no problem with the Holiday Market (pictured above) now in place at Union Square Park – from which it makes over $1 Million. The Holiday Market clearly blocks paths, the 14th Street Plaza and views of the George Washington statue.

This is about controlling public space, money, and a loss of character and charm (the “blanding of New York City”) at our city’s public parks.

Last year, DNAinfo looked into the matter at Union Square:

The sprawling bazaar that takes over Union Square for the park’s annual holiday market has become a hub for gift-shopping New Yorkers.

But one local artist fighting with the Parks Department over its rules to limit street artists in the park the rest of the year sees the city’s preferential treatment of the market as a double standard he thinks could help his case.

Robert Lederman, the outspoken leader of the artists who filed a lawsuit to block the vendor restrictions, claims that money — not public safety or aesthetics, as the city purported — motivated the revised park rules.

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe admitted to a Daily News columnist that money was a big factor in welcoming the market, which pays the city $1 million to takeover the southern end of the park where street artists usually decamp.

The Parks Department said the artists created hazardous conditions for pedestrians.

Lederman, who invoked the artists’ First Amendment right to sell there without having to pay the city, is hoping the Parks Commissioner may end up eating his words.

“That the city put a 200-vendor holiday market in the exact south plaza area where the new rules completely ban all artists shows the utterly false nature of the pretext,” Lederman told DNAinfo. “That Benepe publicly claims it’s okay because they paid him $1 million, is the icing on the cake.”

Lederman called the holiday market a “huge public safety threat,” claiming it blocks one of the city’s busiest subway entrances and obstructs monuments — which the artists must be 50-feet away from.

But the city’s law department argued that during the weeks the market operates, the park isn’t used as much anyway.

“…The Holiday Market is allowed during the time of the year when it does not significantly interfere with the use of the Park because weather conditions reduce the number of people who come to enjoy its facilities,” Gabriel Taussig, a chief in the Administrative Law Division of the NYC Law Department, said in an e-mailed statement.

That’s an interesting argument – the weather argument. People still come out of the subway in that location and walk through the park there, no matter what time of year it is. On milder days, people would be sitting or performing on the Plaza at Union Square. None of that can be done while the Holiday Market is there.

Since these articles appeared last year, the artist vendor – referred to by the city as “expressive matter” vending – restrictions were put into place at the city’s parks (Robert Lederman’s lawsuit against this is ongoing – a decision should be reached early next year).

The Parks Department’s interpretation of these rules, applying them to artists and musicians performing for donations, is new. It is being purposefully applied at Washington Square – and is yet another example of the city’s attempt to revise the image and historic usage of the park.

These rules, with their expanding applications, are about the Bloomberg Administration controlling and further privatizing our public spaces, not about protecting the public from “wayward” artists and musicians appearing on pathways and in our midst.

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe on Performance Crackdown At WSP — What he said… What he meant…

In last week’s Clyde Haberman column in the New York Times “A Word to the ‘Wise and Honest’ on Washington Square Park” which addressed the performance crackdown, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe was quoted as follows and we’ve interpreted his comment for you here at WSP Blog

What he said:

The commissioner of parks and recreation, Adrian Benepe, in a ’60s music moment of his own, said the balance was between the performers and those who go to the park to “enjoy the sounds of silence or the trees blowing in the wind.”

What he meant:

Adrian Benepe, in a 60s music moment of his own, said the balance was between the performers and those who go to the park to “enjoy the sounds of silence” (except for police vehicles driving through and the crash of construction machinery) “or the (dead and dying) trees blowing in the wind.”

Performance Crackdown at the Park — Parks Commissioner says Bob Dylan Could Still Play at WSP; With New Rules, Is That even True?

Updated — Over the last three days, the matter of artists and performers being issued tickets at Washington Square Park has been covered by Associated Press, New York Times, New York Daily News, NY1, Fox5 News, Epoch Times, A Walk in the Park Blog, and more.

The Associated Press credits the New York Times with revealing the “crackdown.” Really the Villager broke the story in their October 27th issue. This blog covered it here on October 28th. Nonetheless, I’m glad this is getting so much attention.

In the New York Times article yesterday, NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe stated: “If Bob Dylan wanted to come play there tomorrow, he could … although he might have to move away from the fountain.”

As bizarre as that even sounds, actually that’s not true. Although the article omitted this fact, the rules also require performers and artists to be 5 feet away from a park bench. 50 feet from a monument or fountain and 5 feet from a park bench pretty much rules out the entire park.

Ron Kuby, Tic and Tac, Norman Siegel at press conference Sunday

At a press conference held Sunday at Washington Square, artists and musicians gathered (pianist Colin Huggins, sand artist Joe Mangrum, performers Tic and Tac) along with attorneys Ron Kuby and Norman Siegel to speak out against the recently enacted regulations which first began being implemented in October of this year at the park.

The Parks Department is applying “expressive matter” rules — which were created to limit artist vendors in parks in 2010 — to musicians and artists who take donations.  

Attorney Ron Kuby said: “Mayor Bloomberg wants to be the neutron bomb of fun. Parks are not museums for Michael Bloomberg and his rich friends to look at the statuary. They have their own museums.” (Comments about Mayor Bloomberg – made by at least three of the speakers – were, interestingly enough, omitted in all the coverage.)

Geoffrey Croft from NYC Park Advocates who organized the press conference stated: “[Parks] employees are forced to issue these summons. It’s all of us who lose. They [Parks Department] make these things up. It’s completely arbitrary. … Unless paying for a license by the city, they don’t want performers.”

Joe Mangrum interviewed by Fox News

Columnist Clyde Haberman today via the New York Times City Room blog :

A certain wacky flavor — including the guy who rolls out his baby grand piano on weekends or the performers known as Tic and Tac — has been part of Washington Square for as long as anyone can remember. On weekends, the park is our equivalent of Victor Hugo’s “cour des miracles,” the courtyard of miracles in front of Notre Dame where everyone gathered: musicians and beggars, holy men and hucksters.

The city says it is simply trying to harmonize an assortment of interests. The commissioner of parks and recreation, Adrian Benepe, in a ’60s music moment of his own, said the balance was between the performers and those who go to the park to “enjoy the sounds of silence or the trees blowing in the wind.”

An aide to the commissioner noted that fewer than two dozen summonses had been issued, hardly the hallmark of a brutal crackdown. “We really love musicians,” said Vickie Karp, a parks department spokeswoman. “This is not about the musicians. It’s about sharing the park.”

But if you truly craved the sounds of silence, you would head to the likes of Central Park or Prospect Park. Since when is Washington Square Park anyone’s idea of a bucolic retreat?

“We’re talking weekends, we’re talking tourists who love this stuff,” Mr. Kuby said. “Nobody ever comes back from their visit to New York and complains, ‘You know, Washington Square Park was so beautiful, but the fountain was all filled with people. I couldn’t see the architecture.’ It’s one of the few authentic pieces of New York left for people to experience.”

It’s important to also recognize what Robert Lederman, President of ARTIST (Artists’ Response To Illegal State Tactics), articulates in a recent Letter to the Editor submitted to the Times:

The public should understand that the choice is not between quiet parks with no vending or parks filled with artists and performers. The choice is between public parks where free speech is the rule, or privatized parks where only those with the most money are allowed to express themselves.

The AP article notes: “The Parks Department website calls the famous Greenwich Village park a ‘gathering spot for avant-garde artists.'”

Perhaps the Parks Department should reference its own materials.
____________________________________________________________________

Note: I’ve received word Community Board 2 may come out of hiding on issues relating to WSP and hold a public forum in mid-December. Update! Information confirmed: CB2 Washington Square Park Speak Out — Monday, December 19, 6:30 p.m. at the NYU Kimmel Center, 60 Washington Square South, 8th Floor.

Coverage:

New York Times: City Cracks Down on Washington Square Park Performers December 5, 2011

WNYC-FM: City cracks down on performers in parks December 5, 2011

New York Daily News: A ‘fine’ time for city park performers December 3, 2011

NY1: Street Performers Speak Out Against Summonses Issued at Washington Square December 5, 2011

Epoch Times: Washington Square Park Musicians Protest Summonses December 5, 2011

Fox 5 New York: Park Performance Ban in NYC December 5, 2011

The Villager: Musicians are told to keep their distance from fountain, seats! October 27, 2011

WSP Blog: City Parks Department’s “Regulations” Take Away From the Very Spirit of What People Come to Washington Square Park For – No Performances Allowed Near Fountain, Benches October 28, 2011