Controversy Over Pillow Fights and Light Saber Battles At Parks

May the non-permitted Force be with you
May the non-permitted Force be with you

In last week’s Villager, there was an article on the Light Saber Battle that took place at Washington Square Park on Saturday, August 9th. The Light Saber Battle NYC, now in its sixth year, is run by an “event planning” company called Newmindspace which also produces Pillow Fight Day. Their events are geared towards having “fun” and typically held in public parks. Pillow Fight Day also happened this year at Washington Square and has for the last few years. (At one point, it took place at Union Square; they seem to have switched their allegiance over the last few years.)

The Villager article delves into the fact that the company did not get a permit to hold this event in the park. I knew they did not get a permit for Pillow Fight Day; I didn’t realize they didn’t get permits for any events held in the city’s public spaces.

At a Community Board meeting earlier this year, concerns were raised over Pillow Fight Day being held at the park. Washington Square Park Administrator Sarah Neilson said that Parks’ District Manager Ralph Musolino had tried to get the Pillow Fights out of the parks to no avail – it seems this falls under “free expression.”

Last year, Washington Square Park was left in horrendous shape after Pillow Fight Day. Even Alec Baldwin was upset about it — he got into an argument with the organizers on Twitter about it! It seems they made more of an effort to clean up afterwards this year enlisting more “volunteers” and encouraging people – again – not to bring pillows with feathers (They did last year also – to no avail.). But Washington Square Park has way too much greenery for any feathers to remain stuck in the grass and bushes impacting the public and wildlife. The city’s Parks Department’s workers end up cleaning it up.

Now, remember, this is a for-profit company putting on “free” events. They seem to attempt to be community-minded and they bring “free” fun to the masses. But is it really “free?” They host “after parties” selling tickets to those. For the Light Saber Battle at the park, they sold the light sabers at first $5 and then $10 and sold 1000 of them. Should a company that is making money off our parks and bolstering its reputation be able to just take them over?

From last week’s Villager:

And there’s another twist to the story — [Newmindspace founder Kevin] Bracken didn’t have a legal permit for his event from the Department of Parks and Recreation, and indeed almost never has one for any of his events. “I have not been arrested yet,” he said.

Anne-Marie Sumner, president of the Washington Square Association that organizes the park’s esteemed music festival, didn’t know about the Lightsaber Battle but is nevertheless “appalled. Well, you know, that’s unacceptable, period. Our park is precious […] and we have a lot of people. We can’t afford to not have some organization in the events that occur,” she said in a phone interview on Monday, after the event.

“While this event did not receive a permit from NYC Parks, we worked with the NYPD to ensure that they had a presence at the park to best ensure the safety of all involved,” Phil Abramson, a spokesperson for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, wrote in an email statement on Monday.

Eileen and David, an elderly couple from Washington Heights who were just coming from the Blue Note jazz club nearby, don’t take these things too seriously. “Legal, shmegal! It’s wonderful” Eileen said cheerfully while screaming kids ran by, chasing some of the older fighters. “If it’s not legal, it should be legal — put it that way.”

I am not someone who thinks everything should be permitted by any means. These are our parks. But… this is a company that is making money on these events. Obviously, the NYPD monitors and stays on top of events coming through the park and, as the Parks Department replied, they had a “presence” there. But the permit also asks for the company to have insurance, clean up, secures an available date, and other things. Should a for-profit company be allowed to produce these “massive” events and take over the park(s)?

Photo: Bill Shatto

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