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Norman Siegel and Ron Kuby and the artists, media coverage, and the community and artists speaking out, this rule is no longer in effect.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

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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.

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

NYT To the Editor Regarding Crackdown on Performers at WSP

Letter, New York Times
Performers in the Park
Published: December 9, 2011

To the Editor:

Re “City Cracking Down on Performers in Washington Square Park” (news article, Dec. 5): I walk through Washington Square every day, and I am always delighted to see the various performing and creative artists there. The square is generally filled with tourists who have traveled from all over the country and the world to see the vibrant culture of Greenwich Village.

Why on earth would anyone issue summonses to people who so enrich the life of New York City?

GEORGE JOCHNOWITZ
New York, Dec. 5, 2011

Community Board 2 to Hold “Washington Square Park Speak Out” on Performance Crackdown Monday, December 19th

Opera Under the Arch! (August 2011)

As I reported in yesterday’s post on the performance crackdown at Washington Square (and the media surrounding it), CB2 plans to come out of hiding on issues relating to WSP and hold a public forum.

Mark your calendar!
Community Board 2 Washington Square Park Speak Out — Monday, December 19th, 6:30 p.m. at the NYU Kimmel Center, 60 Washington Square South, 8th Floor.

A note: No women spoke at Sunday’s press conference on this issue. It’s true there are less female performers at the park. I wonder why that is? I encountered these two women in the summer singing opera under the Arch. The Arch is known for its acoustics; as Katie Kat, left, said, the Arch is “the spot to sing.”

Previously on WSP Blog: Opera Under the Arch! August 4, 2011

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.
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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

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

At the Occupy Washington Square Park meeting last week, I caught the end of a comment from a woman stating that performers were getting ticketed more frequently at the park. I did not know the so-called “reason” behind this but it appears in this week’s Villager“Musicians are told to keep their distance – from fountain, seats!” :

[Doris] Diether, a member of Community Board 2 and a contributor to this newspaper, said that three guitar players who perform in Washington Square told her that PEP officers told them that performers could not play while sitting on a park bench. The rule is that musicians must stand 5 feet from a bench and 50 feet from a monument or fountain.

Diether said she was hand-feeding a squirrel in the south side of the park on Wed., Oct. 26. when a man told her, “Watch out, I got a $50 fine for feeding squirrels here.”

Despite the common conviction that the enforcement policy in Washington Square is stricter than ever, a Department of Parks and Recreation spokesperson said on Wednesday that nothing is special about the current enforcement.

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.

This “regulation” requiring performers to stand “5 feet away from benches” and not perform “within 50 feet of a monument or fountain” seems to be a rule to have a rule, to put forth arbitrary order. This is allegedly so people can “move about freely” and “see monuments and views” (that last bit sounds like George Vellonakis-speak) – this takes away from the very spirit that people have historically come to Washington Square Park for; away from what the park’s reputation and very essence is all about.