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Norman Siegel and Ron Kuby and the artists, media coverage, and the community and artists speaking out, this rule is no longer in effect.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 parks – to 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.
Previously at WSP Blog:
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)
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