Artists’ group sues to block rules on ‘expressive’ vending
By Albert Amateau
The Bloomberg administration has established new rules for vending “expressive matter” in sections of Union Square Park, Battery Park, the High Line and Central Park, but the steep reductions originally proposed for vending locations were eased in the version published Friday in the City Record.
In Union Square Park, where as many as 200,000 people visit on a summer day, the new rules for vending art and other First Amendment-protected material call for 18 vendor spaces daily, with 40 additional spaces on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays when the Greenmarket does not operate.
At a hearing on the rules in April, the Parks Department proposed only 18 daily spaces for expressive matter vending in Union Square Park.
The new rules call for five locations for selling expressive matter on the High Line and nine locations in Battery Park, the same number as proposed in April. For areas around Central Park, the new rules designate a total of 68 expressive matter vending locations, 19 more than proposed in April.
Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe and officials in charge of the four parks have said that limits on art and related vending locations were needed to relieve congestion and ensure public enjoyment of the parks where those vendors currently set up without restriction. The new rules are to go into effect July 19 and vendors who do not comply will be subject to summonses, seizure of material and arrest.
But the ink was scarcely dry on the new rules on June 18 when Robert Lederman, president of ARTIST, a group representing street artists, filed a suit in Manhattan federal court, seeking an injunction to block the rules’ enforcement.
Lederman has already won federal cases — one that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court — that stopped a previous attempt to restrict selling art and written material in the parks on the grounds that the restrictions violated the First Amendment.
The new lawsuit by Lederman and Jack Nesbitt, a member of ARTIST, argues that expressive matter vendors are already subject to rules that govern all vendors.
Lederman said in an e-mail that the “real causes of congestion and the real threat to public safety…is clearly the Parks Department’s own vending concessions: greenmarkets, giant corporate promotions and holiday gift markets featuring hundreds of non-First Amendment-protected vendors that are the problem, not artists.” Those sanctioned concessions “are allowed to blatantly violate every single one of these new rules,” Lederman said.
Under the new rules, the locations in the four park areas will be awarded to expressive matter vendors on a first-come, first-served bases, with no formal permitting. In other areas in the parks, art and similar vendors will be allowed if they do not block paths or seating.
“This allows ample alternatives to artists for expressing themselves and it also protects the public’s right to free access to the public park,” said Benepe.
Warrie Price, executive director of the Battery Conservancy, said on Monday that it was important that the new vendor rules go forward.
“We hope they will permit the park to be enjoyed by everyone,” she said.