‘Clarified’ park rules for artists, buskers still called unclear

Pete Davies, a neighborhood activist, joined scores of visual artists and performers at Community Board 2's recent Parks Committee meeting to question and protest Parks Department rules affecting expressive matter vendors in the city's parks. (Photo: Terese Loeb Kreuzer)

Pete Davies, a neighborhood activist, joined scores of visual artists and performers at Community Board 2′s recent Parks Committee meeting to question and protest Parks Department rules affecting expressive matter vendors in the city’s parks. (Photo: Terese Loeb Kreuzer)

BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER  |  Puppeteer Ronny Wasser-strom and artist David Evirett-Carlson were nervous. They had just emerged from a Community Board 2 Parks and Waterfront Committee meeting on May 1 where Manhattan Borough Parks Commissioner Bill Castro had faced a room full of expressive-matter vendors who were not shy about expressing their questions and grievances with the city’s parks rules and regulations.

Castro wanted to allay their fears about the “clarified” rules issued by the Parks Department on April 2. This clarification stated that as of May 8, musicians and other performers in parks would have to abide by the same rules as expressive-matter vendors of visual art. The rules state that in four heavily trafficked Manhattan parks — the High Line, Battery Park, Central Park and Union Square — musicians and other performers would have to set up their stations on a limited number of medallion-marked spots, just as those who sell paintings, photography, books and newspapers are already required to do.

In other parks, however, according to the written rules, the requirement is that expressive-matter vendors must stay 50 feet away from any monument and 5 feet away from any park bench, tree, wall, fence or sign, among other restrictions.

Despite Castro’s attempt to reassure the C.B. 2 audience, Wasserstrom and Evirett-Carlson figured they had just one week in which to continue to make a living busking in the city’s parks before a crackdown on expressive-matter vendors, like themselves, might slap them with substantial fines and the possibility of arrest. After May 8, they weren’t sure what would happen.

Though Castro’s remarks applied to all of the city’s parks, the particular one under discussion that evening was Washington Square Park, whose 9.75 acres have traditionally been a haven for musicians from all over the city, and indeed, from other parts of the country and other countries, as well.

Castro explained that “the slight adjustment” to the Parks Department’s rules announced on April 2 “is not going to affect musicians who come to the parks to play, with one exception.” He said it would be fine to sit on a park bench with an instrument case and donation can.

“You don’t have to be ‘X’ feet away from this or any of that jazz,” he stated.

The exception would be if a performer wanted to sell a lot of CDs, he said.

“You can sell those without a permit, but you have to get a stand so that people don’t trip over them,” Castro said. “As in the expressive-art rules that we issued a couple of years ago, you have to get a stand. It can be up to 8 feet wide. But if you’re sitting on a bench and you’re playing and you have the CDs on your lap, that’s fine. It’s so that you don’t obstruct things. It’s so that you’re not interfering with people.”

Castro said that the Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP) officers who are charged with administering the rule would be informed in advance so they could “explain it to people, because it can be confusing.”

After hearing this, many of the expressive-matter vendors in the room said they were still confused.

A member of the audience asked Castro, “Would you put it in writing?”

“Yes,” Castro replied. “We’re doing a question-and-answer sheet that we’re going to be handing out.”

Tobi Bergman, a member of the C.B. 2 committee, said part of the audience’s confusion and distress stemmed from what had happened a few years ago when, he said, there were actually quite a few summonses issued “to people who didn’t expect them, because they were doing things that they had normally done when summons were not issued.” Bergman asked Castro to clarify what had happened at that time and why it happened.

“Somebody went off physically and enforced the strict letter of the law,” Castro replied. He indicated that that had not been Parks Department policy and that it had been a PEP officer who took matters into his own hands.

Colin Huggins, who plays a grand piano under the Washington Square arch, said that the summons issued to him in 2010 did not come from a single PEP officer.

“It was from all of them,” Huggins said, “and even Ray Brown [PEP director of operations] himself came up to me, and I have him on film saying it, ‘If you don’t take your piano out of here right now, you’re going to jail.’

“We want to make sure that there’s something in the rules to really clarify that this isn’t going to happen again,” Huggins said. “It wasn’t just a small incident. It was over a long amount of time, and I don’t think I was the only one who was threatened to be put in jail.”

Robert Lederman, who has been suing the Parks Department in federal courts for years over infringements to the free-speech rights of expressive-matter vendors, told the audience that Castro’s statements were at odds with Parks’ stated, written rules. He assiduously videotaped Castro’s comments at last Wednesday’s committee meeting.

“If you’re selling art, if you’re accepting a donation while doing a performance, you’re an expressive-matter vendor,” Lederman said. “And you therefore have to follow all of the expressive-matter vendor rules. The 2013 amendment, which they claim clarifies that, says the same exact thing [as rules put forth in June 2010], slightly reworded.”

Lederman took issue with Castro’s statement that the rules would not apply to performers in Washington Square Park. The activist called that “selective enforcement.”

“We’re going to arrest or summons every single artist that even tries to sell one picture in the park, but we’re going to let an unlimited number of performers basically do anything they want?” Lederman asked rhetorically. He said that Castro’s statements that evening directly contradicted sworn statements in a suit that Lederman has brought against Parks and that is now before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. In its defense in that suit, Parks is saying that the rules are being applied equally to performers, visual artists and, indeed, to expressive-matter vendors of all kinds.

“Commissioner Castro,” one C.B. 2 member asked, “if someone feels they are being harassed, what kind of recourse do they have? Is there a phone number they can call?”

“Yes,” Castro replied. “They can call 311 obviously. They can call my office in Manhattan, 212-408-0201, or they can write or call the Parks commissioner.”

As she left the meeting, community board member Frederica Sigel remarked that Castro had come there to clarify the rules, but despite several hours of discussion, there was just as much confusion as ever.

“This struck me as a ‘ruly’ group,” she said of the expressive-matter vendors in the audience, “as opposed to an ‘unruly’ group. I think that most of them would try to obey the rules if they understood what they were.”

The Villager encourages readers to share articles:

Comments are often moderated.

We appreciate your comments and ask that you keep to the subject at hand, refrain from use of profanity and maintain a respectful tone to both the subject at hand and other readers who also post here. We reserve the right to delete your comment.

6 Responses to ‘Clarified’ park rules for artists, buskers still called unclear

  1. Robert Lederman

    Excellent article. For full details on the rules see: http://www.scribd.com/doc/140085066/Parks-FAQ-Exp

  2. Commissioner Castro's statements at that CB2 Parks Committee meeting were in explicit contrast to the actual rules. It was like listening to a Transportation commissioner tell me I wouldn't get a parking ticket if I moved my car for the street sweeper and then parked and left the car (something I never do as I have been notified by the police that they will ticket). He might as well have told the Committee that no one will get arrested smoking pot in the park. I am reminded of "Animal Farm" and how the pigs kept painting new rules on the barn whenever they wanted to. Does he not understand why government's codify and how the public relies on such codification.
    I invite readers of this subject to actually read the Park Rules PDF published on the nyc.gov as they are actually written regarding musical instruments. in Section 1-05 paragraph "d" section 2 <&lt ;http://www.nycgovparks.org/rules/section-1-05>&gt; to quote:
    No person shall play or operate any sound reproduction device, as defined in §1-02 of these Rules, in any park without a permit from the Department of Parks & Recreation and any other City agency or agencies with pertinent jurisdiction. This paragraph (2) shall not apply to the regular and customary use of portable radios, record players, compact disc players, or television receivers, or tape recorders played or operated in full accordance with these Rules so as not unreasonably to disturb other persons in their permitted uses of the park, except that in areas designated by the Commissioner as "quiet zones," such regular and customary use of sound reproduction devices shall be prohibited. Signs shall be posted in all quiet zones advising the public of such prohibition. Use of radios and other sound reproduction devices listened to solely by headphones or earphones, and inaudible to others, is permitted in all areas of the parks.
    And under Definitions Section 1-02 you will find the following:
    Sound Reproduction Device.
    "Sound Reproduction Device" includes, but is not limited to, any radio receiver, phonograph, television receiver, musical instrument, tape recorder, cassette or disc player, speaker device or system and any sound amplifier.

  3. The City of New York like so many government entities when faced with a situation where their lazy one size inclinations are wholly inadequate to handle the situation with alacrity choose ambiguity which allows any bureaucrat for any reason (political or otherwise), to interpret the law as they see fit, taking self governance out of the hands of the people.

    When it comes to a subject like street culture, it should be obvious that the rules for one park, ie Washington Square Park, may need to be different from the rules for another park. By the same token, the rules for one neighborhood, ie Times Square may need to be different from other areas. In fact one part of a neighborhood may need a rule for one block that is different from the rule two blocks away. For instance in an area that has a thriving nightlife in one area and down the street it is primarily residential, noise must be a consideration. You won't mind noise late at night in one place but want it over by 8pm in the other.

    Washington Square Park is a prime case in point when it comes to parks. Since it is known the world over as a place to see performers and art, it is wholly in keeping with the tradition of the place to have a major presence of creativity. Other parks perhaps not so much. Also, the ambiguity of the present arrangement further creates the danger of constituting a real threat on the rights of free speech. For instance will one busker singing songs in a totally accomplished manner with words like, Bloomberg is a control freak and his policies are weak, get escorted out of the park while a busker singing New York New York out of tune at the top of their lungs gets a pass? It's hard to tell whether it would happen at all and hard to prove it was political if it did happen but it would be considered a possible motive and puts into question the intent of the entire law.

    Perhaps community groups that surround the parks need to get together and meet and draw up recommendations for their park to submit to the City Council. The same for neighborhoods in general as well.One thing is for sure, free creative expression is the bulwark of a free people and street culture is where the rubber meets the road.

  4. Robert Lederman

    Re: the comment above

    Performers and artists traditionally have worked in many NYC Parks, not just in WSP. While it is a logical notion that each park could have different rules, that idea is contrary to the Constitutional protections artists and performers have in public parks and is, probably without meaning to be, a lot closer to the park conservancy idea than to freedom of speech or to NYC law. Under the constitution and established NYC law, artists and performers have a right to create, display, perform and sell their creations in all public parks regardless of what community groups, corporations or conservancies might wish otherwise. It is not up to each local community board, BID or park conservancy to decide how much free speech will be tolerated anymore than it is up to Mayor Bloomberg.

  5. I was not selected as a PEP officer. They were looking for "experience and education" They require 60 credits. I have 123. I also have 20 months of conservation internships with americorps.gov and theSCA.org and almost 2 years security experience at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Furthermore, I am a bilingual minority (Guatemalan) with past wilderness first responder certifications. Unfortunately, my degree is in Art (they do not specify area of study) and I now understand the department does not like artists. However, criminals, sexual harassment, and nepotism is OK!!! http://nypost.com/2012/09/30/parks-dept-hires-worhttp://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/city-parks-dehttp://www.dc37.net/news/PEP/9_2013/public_servic

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

1 + = ten

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>