Thursday, December 22, 2011

Crowd Denounces Parks Dept. Washington Square Park Performer Crack Down

Attorney Norman Siegel addressing Manhattan Community Board's 2 sponsored Washington Square Park Speak Out on Monday night at NYU. Except for Manhattan Borough Commissioner Bill Castro, not a single person spoke in favor of the Parks Department's recent crack down involving the ticketing of performers in Washington Square Park. Mr. Castro claimed the news rules were not meant to ban performers from soliticting donations. He also claimed that performers are permited to solitict donations in the area between the plaza and the Arch, the area where sand artist Joe Mangrum has received numerous summonses. (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on images to enlarge.

On December 6, New York State Assemblymenber Deborah J. Glick sent a letter to Parks Commissioner Adrain Benepe urging him to reconsider the recent practice of ticketing performers individuals within 50 feet of a city monument. (see below)

Sand artist Joe Mangrum holding up the numerous summonses he has recieved between the park's historic Arch and plaza. On Monday Manhattan Borough Commissioner Bill Castro claimed performers could solitict donations at that location. - Geoffrey Croft


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, according to an article in the Villager.

“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.

Manhattan CB2's Washington Square Park Speak Out on Monday night was very well attended.

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

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.”

Norman Siegel, a civil rights lawyer, recalled that he came from
Brooklyn to Manhattan in 1965 to study at New York University Law
School on Washington Square South. He said he was concerned that the
Bloomberg administration was targeting free expression in the parks —
in Zuccotti Park [previously, the site of the Occupy Wall Street
encampment] and Washington Square Park. Noting that the U.S. Supreme
Court has held that music is protected under the First Amendment,
Siegel threatened that another lawsuit was likely unless the city
narrowed the scope of its parks rules.

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

“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.

Tobi Bergman, chairperson of the board’s Parks Committee, called for
speakers supporting the parks rules at the end of the two-hour forum,
but there were no takers. Pros and cons may weigh in online at .

“I take it as a good sign that the enforcement could change,” said
Brad Hoylman, C.B. 2 chairperson, citing Castro’s assurance that the
department would reconsider the policy. Earlier this year, Board 2
opposed the Parks Department’s limits on vendors of expressive matter
in the four Manhattan parks.

“That was even before we knew that musicians would be summonsed,” Hoylman said.

Read More:

A symphony of no’s on Parks’ musician rules at speak-out
The Villager - December 22, 2011 -
By Albert Amateau

DNAinfo - December 19, 2011 - By Andrea Swalec

A Walk In The Park - December 4, 2011 - By Geoffrey Croft

December 6, 2011

Adrian Benepe, Commissioner
New York City Department of Parks & Recreation
The Arsenal
Central Park
830 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10065

Dear Commissioner Benepe,

I write to express my extreme consternation over the recent flurry of
summonses issued by the New York City Parks Department to performers in
Washington Square Park. Theses actions appear to be an infringement on
their First Amendment rights. Additionally, theses restrictions impede
upon the cultural tradition of street performances that has helped define
New York City, and in particular Greenwich Village for many years. It is
during the holiday season when New York City residents and tourists alike
flock to our City's beautiful and historic parks to see decorations as
well as local performances. Therefore, it seems that the City is hurting
performers and tourists by ticketing these popular attractions and
diminishing the ambiance that has long characterized Washington Square

I urge you to reconsider the recent practice of ticketing performing
individuals who are within 50 feet of a city monument, especially when in
such places as Washington Square Park's 10 acres of land there are very
few if no locations which could be consistent with that requirement.
Furthermore the regulation, which specifies that vendors may not be within
50 feet of unauthorized locations, is ambiguous as it covers not only food
vendors and merchandise purveyors but artists and musicians as well. I
propose that the term "vendors' be elaborated upon in this definition to
exempt street performers. To not do so would be to eliminate so much of
the vibrant culture and performing arts that has become part of life in
Greenwich West Village. Thank you for your consideration of this matter.


Assemblymember Deborah J. Glick
New York State Assembly

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