Parks Department Reverses Restrictions on Performers: Report (UPDATE)


In summer 2010, New York enacted rules limiting the location of artist vendors in city parks, a move which has since become the subject of a lawsuit.

The city then applied this same “expressive matter vending” rule to entertainers. Officials used the mandate to crack down on park performers, especially targeting those in Washington Square.

The pols’ basic claim was that change dropped in a musician’s hat was the same thing as buying work from a photographer or painter. So, performers within 50 feet of a monument or fountain or 5 feet of a bench or tree — pretty much the whole park — could get ticketed just like visual artists.

The Voice has just gotten word that the city seems to have reversed its decision to apply this rule to performers. But, it looks like these vending rules still apply to visual artists, who have long fought with the city for the right to display their wares.

The news, first broken by the Washington Square Park blog, quotes a Parks Department spokesman as saying: “Busking and entertainers are not subject to the expressive matter vending rule…They must still abide by other park rules though such as they cannot block benches or paths, play with amplified sound, etc.”

Robert Lederman, who heads an artisan advocacy group and has been the main plaintiff on artists’ vending lawsuits against the city, welcomes the decision.

He thinks it could cause the city to lose the lawsuit.

“I’m happy that rights have been reinstated. The City has destroyed all its legal arguments. The 14th Amendment says that similarly situationed people have to have the same rights,” he told the Voice.

UPDATE: The Parks Department confirmed the blog’s original report, and had this to say to the Voice:

“The expressive matter rules have not changed. Generally, expressive matter vending rules do not apply to buskers and entertainers. They must continue to abide by all park rules. For example, they cannot block benches or paths, or play with amplified sound.

On background, guitar playing does not fall under expressive matter vending rules but the set up of a table / sale of goods (a CD) would.”