Updated 6:38 p.m.
Washington Square Park’s Park Enforcement Patrol (PEP) went around earlier this month, and told performers at the park that they would need to begin following “expressive matter” rules from 2013 beginning May 8th or tickets would be issued. Over the last five years, performers and artists could be present at the park without a table and the PEP certainly were not ticketing. The main aspect appears to be that performers and artists need to set up on a table; this was supposed to pertain to selling of CDs and not work offered by donation. Nonetheless, this has upset some regular artists at this public space.
In addition, feeding of birds, pigeons, squirrels at the park, a regular experience and joyful encounter for many, is allegedly being prohibited and people have been told ticketing will begin for this also.** ??
Why all the changes? This all comes on the heels of “living statue” Johan Figueroa-González being arrested and banned from the Arch. I am sure regular readers know I have my theories on who and what is behind this… (More to come on this story..)
The history of the “Performance Crackdown” and What was Agreed Upon in 2013
In 2011, performers were being ticketed for being too close to the fountain, Arch or any benches, basically anywhere in the park; this was stopped after community outcry. In May of 2013, the Parks Department agreed to clarify the rules and appeared at a Community Board 2 Parks Committee meeting. I wrote at the time:
Manhattan’s Parks Commissioner Bill Castro’s beginning statement at last night’s meeting:
Washington Square Park is a park for decades where musicians have flocked to play music. [This new rule is a] technical change … it is not going to affect musicians who come to the park to play. If you sit on a park bench, open a guitar case, put a hat out, that’s fine. That is not going to change. You don’t have to be x feet away from anything. You can play under the Arch, as long as there is some distance and people can walk through the paths…and you’re not blocking the sidewalk. It is not an issue we consider particularly difficult. It’s not anything we saw as a problem at Washington Square Park. The Community Board has said ‘we don’t want commercialization of things.’
Then, he stated that the only change coming is, that, if a performer has product such as CDs, he or she “can sell those but you have to get a stand. So people don’t trip over them, you have to get a stand. That goes into effect next week. We will make sure our PEP (Park Enforcement Patrol) workers know this. We know it can be confusing [when you hear] 5 feet from a bench, 50 feet from a monument… The only issue is if you decide to sell CD’s. We are doing a Q&A sheet that we’re handing out.”
So far, so good. That seemed clear enough.
Then, former Parks Committee Chair Tobi Bergman, still a member of the committee, asked, going back to 2011 when performers began getting summonses for doing things that they didn’t “normally” get ticketed for at the park, “What happened then, so we can understand” Bergman asked, “and why?” (Good question.)
Commissioner Castro replied, “Somebody went off and enforced the strict letter of the law. [Back in 2011], I came to that Parks meeting and said this is not going to be our policy.We don’t intend it to happen [anymore].”
Manhattan Parks Commissioner Bill Castro: NYC Parks Department rules “go back to Frederick Law Olmsted”
At the 2013 Community Board 2 Parks meeting, Commissioner Castro stated that the Parks Department rules “go back to Frederick Law Olmsted. That’s the genesis of them.” The implication being that they are difficult to change (tho’ they have clearly changed them).
A note: Olmsted died in 1903 at age 81, surely these exact rules we are living with today don’t come from him…? Writer and activist Mitchel Cohen later asked, “Does that rule about amplification come from Olmsted?” I also can’t imagine Olmsted saying, don’t feed the pigeons and squirrels. But anyway…
At the meeting, New York City Parks Advocates’ Geoffrey Croft said that it was “disingenuous [for Bill Castro] to say — his exact quote — ‘someone went off’, that is factually incorrect. This was a Bloomberg Administration policy carried out by Mr. Castro. To throw out a PEP officer under the bus, when this was a policy, is disgusting. Through legal pressure and the help of the board, [change occurred]. Every single person [at the hearing held by Community Board 2] was against the policy, the only person in favor was Bill Castro.”
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** You know what was the nice after the performance crackdown subsided…? The park PEP officers did not give tickets. They only gave warnings… for everything. And so this is a whole other way of running the park which is less kind and destructive to its very spirit.
Story developing… more to come.
Previously at Washington Square Park Blog:
Amidst Confusion, Community and Performers to City’s Parks Department: Commit in Writing — No “Performance Crackdown” at Washington Square, and all NYC Parks May 2, 2013
Everything on the “performance crackdown” written here at WSP Blog.
Photo of Living Statue Arrest at Arch: Santiago Reyes
Bottom two photos: Cathryn