Performance Crackdown at the Park — Parks Commissioner says Bob Dylan Could Still Play at WSP; With New Rules, Is That even True?

Updated — Over the last three days, the matter of artists and performers being issued tickets at Washington Square Park has been covered by Associated Press, New York Times, New York Daily News, NY1, Fox5 News, Epoch Times, A Walk in the Park Blog, and more.

The Associated Press credits the New York Times with revealing the “crackdown.” Really the Villager broke the story in their October 27th issue. This blog covered it here on October 28th. Nonetheless, I’m glad this is getting so much attention.

In the New York Times article yesterday, NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe stated: “If Bob Dylan wanted to come play there tomorrow, he could … although he might have to move away from the fountain.”

As bizarre as that even sounds, actually that’s not true. Although the article omitted this fact, the rules also require performers and artists to be 5 feet away from a park bench. 50 feet from a monument or fountain and 5 feet from a park bench pretty much rules out the entire park.

Ron Kuby, Tic and Tac, Norman Siegel at press conference Sunday

At a press conference held Sunday at Washington Square, artists and musicians gathered (pianist Colin Huggins, sand artist Joe Mangrum, performers Tic and Tac) along with attorneys Ron Kuby and Norman Siegel to speak out against the recently enacted regulations which first began being implemented in October of this year at the park.

The Parks Department is applying “expressive matter” rules — which were created to limit artist vendors in parks in 2010 — to musicians and artists who take donations.  

Attorney Ron Kuby said: “Mayor Bloomberg wants to be the neutron bomb of fun. Parks are not museums for Michael Bloomberg and his rich friends to look at the statuary. They have their own museums.” (Comments about Mayor Bloomberg – made by at least three of the speakers – were, interestingly enough, omitted in all the coverage.)

Geoffrey Croft from NYC Park Advocates who organized the press conference stated: “[Parks] employees are forced to issue these summons. It’s all of us who lose. They [Parks Department] make these things up. It’s completely arbitrary. … Unless paying for a license by the city, they don’t want performers.”

Joe Mangrum interviewed by Fox News

Columnist Clyde Haberman today via the New York Times City Room blog :

A certain wacky flavor — including the guy who rolls out his baby grand piano on weekends or the performers known as Tic and Tac — has been part of Washington Square for as long as anyone can remember. On weekends, the park is our equivalent of Victor Hugo’s “cour des miracles,” the courtyard of miracles in front of Notre Dame where everyone gathered: musicians and beggars, holy men and hucksters.

The city says it is simply trying to harmonize an assortment of interests. The commissioner of parks and recreation, Adrian Benepe, in a ’60s music moment of his own, said the balance was between the performers and those who go to the park to “enjoy the sounds of silence or the trees blowing in the wind.”

An aide to the commissioner noted that fewer than two dozen summonses had been issued, hardly the hallmark of a brutal crackdown. “We really love musicians,” said Vickie Karp, a parks department spokeswoman. “This is not about the musicians. It’s about sharing the park.”

But if you truly craved the sounds of silence, you would head to the likes of Central Park or Prospect Park. Since when is Washington Square Park anyone’s idea of a bucolic retreat?

“We’re talking weekends, we’re talking tourists who love this stuff,” Mr. Kuby said. “Nobody ever comes back from their visit to New York and complains, ‘You know, Washington Square Park was so beautiful, but the fountain was all filled with people. I couldn’t see the architecture.’ It’s one of the few authentic pieces of New York left for people to experience.”

It’s important to also recognize what Robert Lederman, President of ARTIST (Artists’ Response To Illegal State Tactics), articulates in a recent Letter to the Editor submitted to the Times:

The public should understand that the choice is not between quiet parks with no vending or parks filled with artists and performers. The choice is between public parks where free speech is the rule, or privatized parks where only those with the most money are allowed to express themselves.

The AP article notes: “The Parks Department website calls the famous Greenwich Village park a ‘gathering spot for avant-garde artists.'”

Perhaps the Parks Department should reference its own materials.

Note: I’ve received word Community Board 2 may come out of hiding on issues relating to WSP and hold a public forum in mid-December. Update! Information confirmed: CB2 Washington Square Park Speak Out — Monday, December 19, 6:30 p.m. at the NYU Kimmel Center, 60 Washington Square South, 8th Floor.


New York Times: City Cracks Down on Washington Square Park Performers December 5, 2011

WNYC-FM: City cracks down on performers in parks December 5, 2011

New York Daily News: A ‘fine’ time for city park performers December 3, 2011

NY1: Street Performers Speak Out Against Summonses Issued at Washington Square December 5, 2011

Epoch Times: Washington Square Park Musicians Protest Summonses December 5, 2011

Fox 5 New York: Park Performance Ban in NYC December 5, 2011

The Villager: Musicians are told to keep their distance from fountain, seats! October 27, 2011

WSP Blog: City Parks Department’s “Regulations” Take Away From the Very Spirit of What People Come to Washington Square Park For – No Performances Allowed Near Fountain, Benches October 28, 2011

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