Pianists at Washington Square Park like Colin Huggins, 33, and other street performers have been targeted by the city's new rule that prevents collecting donations near landmarks or monuments in parks. Mr. Huggins has recently been issued nine tickets. He has also been threatened with arrest by PEP Commander Ray Brown. (Photo: Bryan Smith/NY Daily News)
Mr. Huggins, a classically trained pianist, spends twenty minutes moving his piano from a nearby storage to Washington Square Park.
For more than a century, Washington Square Park has been one of the city's most important cultural epicenters for public expression. The park has been home to thousands of talented musicians, street performers and artists who contribute to the cultural fabric of New York City.
Bob Dylan and Joan Baez are just a few of the noted names who have performed in the historic park.
In an attempt to prohibit and restrict this activity in the park, the Bloomberg administration is attempting to classify these performers as vendors. They recently began issuing tickets under the Parks Department's new Expressive Matter vending rules and have instructed PEP officers to write tickets which include unlawful vending and unlawful assembly.
Critics assert this enforcement is a violation of the First Amendment, they say the vending rules are not applicable and are being enforced arbitrarily. The rule also severly limits the areas in the park where these free speach activites can done.
At a press conference in Washington Square Park on Sunday, Joe Mangrum, a sand painter, held up the six summonses he's been issued by the Parks Department under a crackdown by the Bloomberg administration. Five tickets were issued in Washington Square Park and one in Union Square Park totalling $4,750 in fines. (Ivan Pentchoukov/The Epoch Times)
Over the least few months at least 21 tickets have been issued in Washington Square Park, however when asked to provide the number Manhattan Parks Commissioner Bill Castro put the number at 12.
On Sunday the Parks Department also erroneously stated the new vending rules have been in effect since last year when if fact have been in effect since May 2011 when the Appellate Division, First Department of the New York State Supreme Court struck down a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) that had been in effect since the Summer 2010.
Tourists and locals alike flock to the park, not only to admire the noted architectural elements amidst the pastoral beauty, but also to enjoy the performers and take part in a uniquely New York experience. Some people specifically come to the park to hear and see performances, to take a few minutes to rest and enjoy the sights and sounds.
Since the 1940′s Washington Square Park had been an epicenter for folk music. In 1961 the Washington Square Association, along with then Parks Commissioner Newbold Morris attempted to ban folk singing arguing that the park should be "tranquil and quiet." Police were ordered to remove performers and bystanders from the park. On Sunday, April 9th, close to 3, 000 “Beatniks, ” including a 19-year-old Bob Dylan, came to the park to play their music in opposition of this ban. The event came to be known as the Beatnik Riot, or Washington Square Folk Riot. The ban was eventually lifted after protests.
On Sunday attorney Ron Kuby read a April 6, 2011 letter from Mayor Bloomberg supporting the 50th anniversary celebration of the Riots which people strongly belived was not consitant with his current position regarding the crackdown of performers in the park.
"Music has always been at the heart of New York City," the letter states.
"From folk to hard rock, from Jazz to hip-hop, we are proud to be home to so many musicians and venues that have inspired artists of every genre. That is why I am pleased to join you in applauding the folk performers who changed music, our City, and our world beginning a half a century ago."
In a highly controversial move earlier this year the city had attempted to prohibit performing near Central Park's Bethesda fountain.
"Parks does not to want performers coming in and making money, " said an officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity. - Geoffrey Croft
A three-year-old drops change into a donation bucket while sand artist Joe Mangrum creates one of his beloved pieces. Mr. Mangrum has recently been issued six tickets under a crackdown by the Bloomberg administration.
(Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on images to enlarge.
STREET PERFORMERS are singing the blues after the city instituted hefty fines for collecting donations near landmarks or monuments in parks, according to an article in the New York Daily News.
The new rule, which quietly went into effect two months ago, violates freedom of speech, bummed-out buskers and civil liberties advocates told the Daily News last week.
“It’s artistic free speech, and not panhandling or begging,” said Kareem Barnes, 36, of the Bronx, a member of an acrobatic dance troupe that has performed near Washington Square Park’s empty fountain for the last 25 years.
Under the new rule, performers cannot collect donations within 50 feet of a landmark or monument. They face a $250 fine for the first offense, but the fine can rise to $1,000 in subsequent summonses.
City Parks Department says the rule protects performers and park visitors.
Performers “don’t have to leave the park, but [must] be in an area that doesn’t prevent the public from enjoying the amenities in the park,” Manhattan Borough Parks Commissioner William Castro said.
Tic and Tac from the Bronx have been performing in Washington Square Park for more than 25 years. The tickets issued to them keep getting thrown out in court.
"The park is for everyone, for the general public not for [Barnes] whose sole purpose is making money."
Barnes said he has been slapped with nearly $10,000 in summonses in the past two months — but an Environmental Control Board judge dismissed the fines after he argued his constitutional rights.
"This is how we make our living," said Barnes, who has performed at Yankee Stadium and with singers Alicia Keys and Michael Jackson. He said the parks fountain is one of the most lucrative public performance spaces in the world for street artists and he has no plans to leave.
Castro said under the new rule, the Parks Department has issued 12 summonses to performers in Washington Square Park, but the artists and advocates say the number is much higher.
"Anywhere you are in Washington Square Park you are within 50-feet of a monument," said Joe Mangrum, who has been creating sidewalk art using colored sand in the park since 2009 and only recently he was slapped with his first of six summonses totalling $4,750 in fines.
"Basically, a public park has been regulated to a point where free speech doesn't exist," said Mangrum.
Atleast one prominent New Yorker said he disagrees with the new rules and he plans to help the performers re-claim the public space.
"This has historical significance. Once again, Mayor Bloomberg's desire to regulate everything, especially to regulate fun, means he cobbles together a legal rational based on the crazy idea that tourist in Washington Square Park want an unobstructed view of the fountain," said park-goer and noted civil rights attorney Ron Kuby. "The tourist attraction is people preforming at the fountain."
"C'mon Mike. Stop, just stop," said Kuby, He added that he would be willing to meet with the performers and help them challenge the summonses in court.
“Performers bring life, culture and safety to our parks, and yet the city is harassing and trying to intimidate them,” said Geoffrey Croft, head of NYC Park Advocates.
“This Bloomberg policy is an embarrassment to the city and must stop immediately.”
But not all performers disagree with the new restrictions.
"I think their is room for all things here, both attainment and inanimate," said Jacob Green, 24, member of the acapella group "The Winter Wonders," who serenaded park-goers with a version of "Jingle Bells," one recent afternoon, less than 20 feet from a monument to noted engineer Alexander Lyman Holley.
"If you have performers, I understand the rational" he said. "It hasn't effected me yet but when I get in trouble, maybe I will have a different point of view."
But some visitors claim the performers are part of the charm of the park and people have a right to showcase their talents in public, even if it's within sight of a landmark.
"Tourists come to see the performers," said Dania Bdeir, 22, an NYU student and park regular since arriving in the city from Lebanon two months ago. "In my country they don't have street performers. That's what makes this city so special. You can walk around and see people singing and dancing."
Union Square Park Fountain. The city is trying to enforce new expressive matter vending rules which state you can not be within 50 feet of monuments and 5 feet from benches. Apparently those rules do not apply to the Holiday Market vendors in Union Square Park and Columbus Circle who pay the city more than a million dollars annually. Unlike the performers who spend a few hours a week in the park, these commercial enterprises occupy parkland 24/7 for more than 7 weeks a year.
A food vendor in Washington Sq. Park (below) is also apparently exempt from the five foot away from bench rule.
Are nyucleftomaniacs, "NYU's premire all-female a cappella group," also being targeted?
Crackdown on donations near landmarks or monuments in parks makes buskers fume
New York Daily News - December 3 2011 - By John Doyle
NY1 - December 4, 2011
New York Times - December 4, 2011 - By Lisa W. Foderaro
The Epoch Times - December 4, 2011 - By Ivan Pentchoukov
Fox 5 - December 4, 2011 - By Lisa Evers
gothamist - December 4, 2011 - By Christopher Robbins
City Cracks Down on Performers in Parks
WNYC - December 5, 2011 - By Tracie Hunte / Arun Venugopal
Huffington Post - december 5, 2011
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS - December 5, 2011
The Villager - October 27, 2011 - By Albert Amateau
Performance Crackdown at the Park — Parks Commissioner says Bob Dylan Could Still Play at WSP; With New Rules, Is That even True?
The Washington Square Park Blog - December 6, 2011
New York Times - December 6, 2011- By Clyde Haberman