The Union Square "Holiday Market" and Selling Off and Shutting Down Our Public Space

Union Square "Holiday Market"
Union Square "Holiday Market"

Fascinating reading this Sunday’s (December 21st) New York Times City section Cover Story on the Union Square “Holiday Market” which it proclaims “The Jewel Box of Union Square.” Comparing the Washington Square Park City section cover story “The Battle for Washington Square” and this Union Square piece, one starts to think maybe the City section has a great love for the New York City Parks Department despite so much evidence, if given a close look and taken seriously, that would cause that love affair to go real sour very quickly.

The New York City Parks Department sells off a large section of the public space at Union Square for four weeks, at the time of year when it might be nice, important even, for people to actually come together in that space. The space at Union Square Park is unique (like Washington Square Park) because it has a large plaza, people sit on the steps, they watch (and participate with) musicians, performances and political speak outs. And yet that all gets SHUT DOWN at this time of year for an entire month.

Then there is the issue of the harassment of street artists who have won their right to sell art in the parks based on First Amendment protection. During their legal battles with the city – primarily from 1998-2001 – according to A.R.T.I.S.T. President Robert Lederman, “the city claimed that artists were completely ruining the parks by selling art. They claimed that by, ‘commercializing the city’s parks,’ we were denying the entire public their right to use that same public space.” Funny how that doesn’t apply to “Holiday Market” vendors who – if you study the photo above – take up a huge amount of our public space. Though the street artists have prevailed in court, they are still harassed by the New York City Parks Department, and the NY City Council wants to limit their access – in order to open up access for further privatization of public space. Tricky, eh?

But you see, the issue is actually the right of the city to sell the public space, and, while the GreenMarket and the artist street vendors work within the public space, the “Holiday Market” takes over the space – which is much more offensive to those of us who like to utilize the public space.

More from Robert Lederman here.

NY Times Features Union Square Holiday Market

[There is] a very significant feature article from the Dec 21, 2008 Sunday NY Times on the Union Square Holiday Market. It is in every sense a puff piece, a deliriously positive article that reads like a press release written by the Markets organizer.

The ARTIST newsletter has sent out a lot of information on and criticism about this market over the past year, and will continue to do so. You might wonder why this market is such an issue for us.

Let me make it clear that we have no problem with the general merchandise and craft vendors who choose to pay thousands of dollars to set up in it. It’s a free country. And if First Amendment protected artists want to spend six to 12 thousand dollars to sell in the exact same place where they can sell for free, thanks to the ARTIST lawsuits, that’s their business.

Our issue is with the city officials, the NYC Parks Department and the BIDs (Business Improvement Districts) who are using these markets to privatize vending throughout NYC. If you read the article with the city’s ongoing effort to destroy vending and to destroy the rights of street artists in mind, you will see many ironies. Taking it one step further, you will also understand what an incredible piece of evidence these markets will be for us, should we need to go back to court to
further defend our rights.

Here are just a few points to consider:

1. From 1998 to 2001 the ARTIST group was engaged in a huge legal struggle with the Parks Department about selling art in parks. Hundreds of artists were arrested. Thousands of summonses were issued to artists. Truckloads worth of fine art was confiscated and destroyed by the NYPD and Park Enforcement police despite no artist ever being found guilty of any charge.

In Federal Court, the city claimed that artists were completely ruining the parks by selling art. They claimed that by, “commercializing the city’s parks,” we were denying the entire public their right to use that same public space. After we won the case they appealed it to 7 different courts in order to try to keep us out of any NYC Park. Despite losing the case on every conceivable level, they have never stopped harassing, threatening and summonsing artists in an ongoing attempt to intimidate us to give up our legal rights.

During all of this period, right up to today, they have arrested, confiscated and summonsed people selling jewelry, clothing, handbags, hats, tee shirts, crafts and other items considered by the city to be non First Amendment protected in parks, yet, these are the exact same items being sold in the Holiday Markets.

2. Among the false claims that Park officials continue to make about artists is that we block access to benches, pedestrian pathways etc. Artists get ludicrous summonses for having a display that is as little as an inch larger than the 8 feet we are allowed or an inch too close to something. Yet, the same officials allow these Holiday Markets to take over entire parks for a month at a time, completely obstructing every facility.

3. Perhaps the biggest irony of all (and the most useful aspect of this as it applies to evidence for a potential future lawsuit, should one prove necessary) is that these markets are taking place against the backdrop of more than 21 proposed new anti street artist vending laws. It is almost comical to consider these proposed restrictions against the backdrop of the Holiday Markets.

Limiting artists to 2 per block; eliminating us from all parks; losing our constitutional rights and sentencing us to jail for getting three summonses; these are just a few of the 21 proposed vending laws now before the NY City Council. [WSP Blog Note: All introduced by Council Member Alan Gerson.]

That the same city officials behind these vending proposals deliberately locate Holiday Markets in the most congested areas of NYC, proves they are lying about the imaginary harm we cause with every statement they make.

Lastly, if you still don’t quite get what I mean by, “privatizing vending,” this article should help.

To privatize vending is to take away the Constitutional rights of artists, then sell those same rights back to them for six to 12 thousand dollars a month. Privatizing vending means to let someone like the boss of the Urban Space Management Holiday Markets take total control of a public space and sell that space to artists, craftspeople and vendors. Privatizing vending means to arrest thousands of vendors and craftspeople all over NYC while claiming they are an abomination,
then sell them the exact same space they were previously in and claim
they are charming and delightful.

Don’t be fooled. You are looking at what they intend to replace you with. Will you let them get away with it?
Robert Lederman
e-mail: artistpres -at-
A.R.T.I.S.T. site.

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