I typically try to avoid the artist pandemonium on Union Square because it takes four times as long to walk through it than to just go around it, but today I stopped in because there was a protest, and it’s a relatively slow news day, and there was a guy holding up a sign of Mayor Bloomberg as Charles Montgomery Burns from The Simpsons.
His name was Albert, and he was protesting a new ordinance (effective today) that requires the artist vendors of Union Square to sell their “ideas,” as he called them, on the sidewalks on the outskirts of the park as opposed to the middle walkway where they normally work.
The new rules affect four different parks in which only a limited number of “expressive matter vendors” will be allowed to set up. On non-greenmarket days in Union Square, 40 artists will be permitted to express their matter, but on days when the farmers come to town, the number is even smaller.
“Where there are normally over 100 artists, they’ve limited it to 18 spaces that are virtually unusable,” said Robert Lederman, President of ARTIST (Artists’ Response To Illegal State Tactics), “Nobody’s going to use those spots.”
And they didn’t. Not this morning at least. Lederman reported that it was mostly business as usual for the artists at Union Square, who clocked in at around 8 a.m. and left only when the rain started to pour. Artists like Marty Allen, who makes and sells portraits of sock puppets.
Along with the other regular vendors, Marty and others practiced “non-display vending” to peaceably protest the new ordinance by selling their art off their own bodies.
And the cops didn’t do anything, not one thing?
“They couldn’t do anything. We’re not doing anything wrong,” said Lederman, who is not a lawyer but has headed 7 successful court cases against Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg on cases similar to this one. He has been arrested, never convicted, 43 times.
By the looks of this morning’s uneventful protest and Lederman’s previous successful history, the Union Square Artists probably don’t have much to worry about, even if they are selling portraits of sock puppets as expressive matter.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 19, 2010