Volume 80, Number 13 | August 26 - September 1, 2010
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Art vendors suit: Regs are unfair to women, elderly

By Albert Amateau

A group of artists has won a temporary restraining order against the Department of Parks and Recreation, blocking the department from enforcing part of its new rules limiting where artists can sell their First Amendment-protected material in four Manhattan parks.

Under the injunction, signed on Wednesday by State Supreme Court Justice Martin Schoenfeld, as of Thursday morning Aug. 26, the Parks Department will not be allowed to enforce the rules governing the designated locations and the first-come, first-served basis on which artists may vend “expressive matter.” The injunction will last at least until Monday morning Aug. 30 when Justice Schoenfeld will hear arguments and decide on the next step.

The most recent action was filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan earlier this month after “expressive matter” vendors failed in the first one in federal court to obtain a preliminary injunction against the new rules.

The state court lawsuit filed by Jon S. Brooks on behalf of Artists United is similar to the first one, which is still pending despite Federal Judge Richard Sullivan’s denial of a preliminary injunction.

The new action also seeks a temporary injunction, pending a permanent ban, against the new rules that went into effect July 19, contending they are unconstitutional and have resulted in discrimination against women, the elderly and handicapped artists.

According to the rules, the artists may only vend in a specific number of spaces marked by small medallions on the pavement at Union Square Park, Battery Park, High Line Park and parts of Central Park from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the East 80s down to Columbus Circle.

The spots are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. But the new suit says it is impossible to determine which artists came first to be entitled to a space.

“Expressive-matter vendors have been spending the night on the perimeter areas of the restricted parks…and have been faced with intimidating conflicts with other expressive-matter vendors over who arrived first at particular designated spots,” the suit says. Consequently, the new rules “have resulted in a ‘survival of the fittest’ system which has a discriminatory effect on women, the elderly and the physically infirm who are unable to fairly compete with others for the designated spots,” according to court papers.

The Department of Parks and Recreation has said the new rules were drafted because the proliferation of expressive-matter vendors was overcrowding the four parks in question and limiting access to them by other park users.

The new suit challenges the overcrowding claim and contends that expressive-matter vendors are being wrongfully singled out as causing whatever overcrowding there is. The suit claims the four-days-per-week Greenmarket as well as the holiday markets, corporate art installations and corporate events have a much greater impact on Union Square Park than all the expressive-matter vendors combined; but the new rules make no attempt to reduce or restrict such vendors.

Artists United had filed the federal court suit in July, joining another group, A.R.T.I.S.T. (Artists’ Response To Illegal State Tactics); but only Artists United are involved in the state court action. Julie Milner, the lawyer representing A.R.T.I.S.T., said she was continuing the case in federal court to permanently cancel the new rules.

 


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