Monday, January 2, 2012

Parks Dept. Performance Summonses Put On Hold In Washington Square Park

Sand artist Joe Mangrum holding up numerous summonses he has recieved in Washington Square Park. Street performers have been targeted by the city's new rule that prevents collecting donations near landmarks or monuments in parks.
In an attempt to prohibit and restrict this activity in the park, the Bloomberg administration is attempting to classify these performers as vendors. The city 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.

Although a number of people who were issued tickets were originally required to go to court in December the City adjourned all the tickets until at least January 31st. Last week another ticket were dismissed. On December 21, an administrative law judge at the city’s Environmental Control Board threw out a summons issued on October 23 to Kareem “Tac” Barnes who had been performing an acrobatic dance routine with his twin brother in Washington Square Park's fountain. The judge found that they were, "not engaged in an activity that required a permit." (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates)


It may be curtains for the controversial crackdown on street performers in city parks.

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, according to the New York Daily News.

“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 William 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.

That’s good news for Kareem “Tac” Barnes, who has been performing an acrobatic dance routine with his twin brother, Tyheem, near the Washington Square Park fountain for 25 years.

“We are not looking for permission or forgiveness. We just want to perform,” said Barnes, 36, a father of five. “

We don't need permission to be out there. It's our First Amendment right.”

Barnes said he has had most of his 14 summonses — carrying fines of more than $10,000 — dismissed.

News of the latest dismissal came about two weeks ago in a letter from the city’s Environmental Control Board. The letter stated that his performance did not fall under the guidelines of the city's vendor laws, which prohibit vending in city parks.

“It's totally a victory," Barnes said.

Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates, said the rules “are clearly meant to prohibit performing in the park.”

“We are happy that the city has officially ceased writing summonses until these issues can be worked out,” Croft said.

Read More:

Street artists say they’re performing again without fear of big fines in Washington Square Park Rule barring tip performances within 50 feet of a monuments under fire
New York Daily News - January 1 2012 - By John Doyle

A Walk In The Park - December 22, 2011

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

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