NYC Parks Department Concedes Artists Have Right to Sell Art in High Line Park Post Arrests

Visit the recently debuted A Walk in the Park Blog to hear the latest on the High Line Park where artists were arrested three times in recent months for selling artwork in the new park. Artist and activist Robert Lederman is prepared to challenge the City Parks Department with a new lawsuit. He has previously prevailed in federal court where it was decreed that it is a First Amendment right for artists to be able to sell art in a public park.  Mr. Lederman met with NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe after the arrests. Subsequently, the Parks Department has retreated from their original position (that this vending is illegal because a permit is required or an issue of “public safety”) and said they would no longer authorize Park officers to arrest artists in the park.

$153 million of public funding has been allocated to the High Line Park’s creation. Geoffrey Croft of NYC Park Advocates writes at A Walk in the Park Blog that that money could have been directed towards “communities that desperately need their already established parks fixed up.”

From the blog:

On Saturday [12/12] artists were allowed to sell their wares on the High Line without incident for the first time. The day before, the Parks Department reversed its position which had resulted in three arrests. Their previous vending policy only permitted selling items which included designer muffins, exotic teas, coffee and gelato. Unlike the “expressive matter” vendors, commercial concessions bring in revenue to the city.  The City is currently negotiating a sole source concession agreement with the Friends of the High Line (FOH) which would allow the group to keep revenue from items sold on the park property. Since its opening in the Spring, the City has allowed 29 different permitted commercial vendors on the High Line but no art vendors.

In addition, Croft writes: “One would think that the Friends of the High Line would have made every effort to accommodate artists instead of actively trying to discriminate against them.”

From the Friends of High Line Park:

Artwork is a logical inclusion for the High Line; artists, gallery owners and art collectors were among the earliest supporters of its transformation into a public park space, and it runs through some of the most culturally significant neighborhoods of Manhattan. “

The Union Square “Holiday Market” and Selling Off and Shutting Down Our Public Space

Union Square "Holiday Market"

Union Square "Holiday Market"

Fascinating reading this Sunday’s (December 21st) New York Times City section Cover Story on the Union Square “Holiday Market” which it proclaims “The Jewel Box of Union Square.” Comparing the Washington Square Park City section cover story “The Battle for Washington Square” and this Union Square piece, one starts to think maybe the City section has a great love for the New York City Parks Department despite so much evidence, if given a close look and taken seriously, that would cause that love affair to go real sour very quickly.

The New York City Parks Department sells off a large section of the public space at Union Square for four weeks, at the time of year when it might be nice, important even, for people to actually come together in that space. The space at Union Square Park is unique (like Washington Square Park) because it has a large plaza, people sit on the steps, they watch (and participate with) musicians, performances and political speak outs. And yet that all gets SHUT DOWN at this time of year for an entire month.

Then there is the issue of the harassment of street artists who have won their right to sell art in the parks based on First Amendment protection. During their legal battles with the city – primarily from 1998-2001 – according to A.R.T.I.S.T. President Robert Lederman, “the city claimed that artists were completely ruining the parks by selling art. They claimed that by, ‘commercializing the city’s parks,’ we were denying the entire public their right to use that same public space.” Funny how that doesn’t apply to “Holiday Market” vendors who – if you study the photo above – take up a huge amount of our public space. Though the street artists have prevailed in court, they are still harassed by the New York City Parks Department, and the NY City Council wants to limit their access – in order to open up access for further privatization of public space. Tricky, eh?

But you see, the issue is actually the right of the city to sell the public space, and, while the GreenMarket and the artist street vendors work within the public space, the “Holiday Market” takes over the space – which is much more offensive to those of us who like to utilize the public space.

More from Robert Lederman here. (more…)

Street Artists Protest Gerson-sponsored Vending Bills Friday, November 14th at City Hall

The “Gerson-Quinn Agreement” that NY City Council Member Alan Gerson (Washington Square Park is in his district) and Speaker Christine Quinn (Quinn covers the neighboring Village district) brokered was weak and gained little for the community they both represent.

At City Hall, a few weeks ago during the term limits hearings, Alan Gerson would never state his position on the matter. Yet, it came as no surprise to anyone that the day of the crucial vote he fell in line with Mayor Bloomberg, Speaker Quinn, and voted for the legislation which would extend his own term.

So now Alan Gerson is on the attack of New York City’s street artists.

Info from Robert Lederman, President of A.R.T.I.S.T.:

400 Street Artists Will Protest at City Council Hearing on Vending

Press Conference and Protest: Friday, November 14, 9 AM City Hall (East Gate)

On Friday, November 14th, the NY City Council Committee on Consumer Affairs will hold a hearing on 8 of 21 pending laws concerning vending and street artists pushed for by City Council Member Alan Gerson.

If passed, these laws will make it virtually impossible for anyone to legally sell art on the street. More than 400 street artists will protest outside at 9 AM and then testify inside at the hearing at 10 AM.

Other City Council members to contact to register your opposition to these bills:

* Lacey Clarke, Legislative Counsel Committee on Consumer Affairs New York City Council Phone #: 212.788.7006

* Leroy Comrie, Consumer Affairs Committee Chairman
District Office Phone 718-776-3700
Legislative Office Phone 212-788-7084

Contact: Robert Lederman, President of A.R.T.I.S.T.: artistpres -at- gmail.com

You can get detailed info on all of the newly proposed vending laws at the ARTIST website.

Note: It was impossible to find a good photo of Alan Gerson on Flickr so I resorted to this one. No disrespect meant to Council Member Gerson.

Artists Being Evicted from Union Square Park


Artists make up a vital part of the fabric of Union Square Park. On Friday, April 4th, they were given word that they are being evicted out of their longstanding space due to Mayor Bloomberg and Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe’s plans to further privatize the Park. These plans, as outlined previously, include expanding the restaurant space in the historic Pavilion for Union Square Partnership member and restauranteur Danny Meyer, thereby reducing the amount of space for artists, the famous GreenMarket(founded by Parks Commissioner Benepe’s father, Barry) and free speech protesters in the Park for TWO years during construction. The expansion for this restaurant, largely unwelcome by the community, will also mean the destruction of 14 stately trees by our city’s Parks Commissioner.

Here is an excerpt from a notice from Robert Lederman who organizes A.R.T.I.S.T., an organization representing, and comprised of, street artists in our city:

On Friday, April 4th 2008. the Parks Department told artists working in Union Square Park that for the next two years they would no longer be allowed to set up in or around the park on Wednesdays and Saturdays due to a construction project at the North end of the park. A restaurant is being built there on behalf of a board member of the Union Sq Partnership. As a result of the construction, the entire Greenmarket will be relocated from the North and West sides of the park to the South and West sides, the exact location artists have set up in for years.

I explained (to the Parks Department) that artists have no problem with the Greenmarket and are willing to reasonably cooperate in making space for the construction project but that we also have NO intention of giving up our First Amendment rights in the park.

Some background: The Mayor deliberately under budgets the Parks Department each year. As a result, the Parks Department must somehow earn hundreds of millions of dollars each year in order to pay the bills for running the vast NYC parks system. They make up for the lack of funds by selling concessions, letting corporations rent public parks for special events and by privatizing public spaces, as is being done in USP with the new restaurant.

They also deal with this deliberate under budgeting by allowing private corporations like the Union Square Partnership, The Central Park Conservancy, the Battery Park Conservancy and the Bryant Park Conservancy to take over most, or in some cases all, of the operations in a particular park. In exchange for the funding, they are allowed to gradually transform NYC’s public parks into corporate run privatized parks, not much different than Disneyland or a private mall.

For more information or to be updated consistently, please contact Robert Lederman at artistpres -at- gmail.com.
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