Volume 76, Number 17 | September 13 - 19, 2006

S.I.A.C.U. is sacked after flap over letter backing artist zones

By David Spett

The Soho International Artists’ Cooperative Union, a group of W. Broadway artists that includes Lawrence White and Jill Stasium, has decided to disband.

After all the members but White retracted their support for original-artist-only zones in a letter to the City Council dated Aug. 7, White suggested that the group disband, Stasium said.

“This isn’t against Larry White. This isn’t a split with Larry,” Stasium said. “It’s really us having solidarity with all the artists out there, because the artists really have to have a unified front.”

Robert Lederman, president of the other major artists’ group, Artists’ Response to Illegal State Tactics, or A.R.T.I.S.T., has long been critical of White and S.I.A.C.U. for supporting original-artist-only zones. S.I.A.C.U. was initially formed as an alternative to A.R.T.I.S.T.

Lederman encouraged S.I.A.C.U. to retract its support for the original-artist-only zones, saying they infringe on First Amendment rights of other vendors. Lederman has also accused White and S.I.A.C.U. of supporting a permitting system for artists, who currently need no permit to display their work on the street.

White said S.I.A.C.U.’s mission will live on regardless of whether the group continues to exist. Therefore, the group has not truly broken up, he said.

“I don’t really care what they call themselves as long as they get involved, stay involved and work together without a single leader taking them down a dark road of confrontation and useless hatred,” White said, apparently referring to Lederman. White now lives Upstate and no longer vends his photographs on W. Broadway.

White and Stasium said S.I.A.C.U. never truly got off the ground. For example, no dues were collected and most of the group’s goals were not met. Members originally intended to work on issues like securing space and insurance for artists, but those goals became less important when the police cracked down on artists this summer, Stasium said.

White, who says artists should work cooperatively without leaders, remains critical of Lederman.

“A strong element of paranoia has risen in the ranks of artists since the police harassment began again this summer,” White said, adding that several of his friends had “fallen prey” to Lederman’s tactics, which include starting street protests anytime a police officer wrongfully tickets, or threatens to ticket, an artist.

Stasium said the W. Broadway artists’ strategy is to stay the course for now. They will not be issuing a legal challenge to the 20-foot rule, which bans vendors from setting up within 20 feet of any doorway, nor will they advocate original-artist-only zones.

If police wrongfully accuse them of violating the 20-foot rule, however, they will follow Lederman’s lead and start a protest, Stasium said. They started their last protest about a month ago, she said.

The artists are awaiting Councilmember Alan Gerson’s plan to reform the city’s vending laws, which Gerson has promised to announce before the end of the summer.

“It’s guaranteed not to be acceptable,” Stasium said, adding the W. Broadway artists will likely organize opposition to the proposed changes.

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