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Norman Siegel and Ron Kuby and the artists, media coverage, and the community and artists speaking out, this rule is no longer in effect.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.