Why Are Artists Still Barred From City Parks?


Last week the Voice brought you news that the City had reversed a decision prohibiting virtually all entertainers from performing in New York’s parks.

That mandate, which stemmed from “expressive matter vending rule,” was used against performers starting in 2010, after the city carried out a controversial crackdown on artist vendors with the same regulation.

As it stands, the city’s artisans and craftspeople currently must stick to certain locations in spaces controlled by the Department of Parks and Recreation. Judging from the language of the rule, though, it’s unclear why this no longer applies to performers but still applies to artists.

Parks guidelines say that: “No person in or on any property under the jurisdiction of the Department shall sell, offer for sale, hire, lease or let anything whatsoever, or provide or offer to provide services or items in exchange for a donation (hereinafter ‘vend’), except under and within the terms of a permit, or except as otherwise provided by law. For the purposes of this entire section, persons who vend as defined herein may be referred to as ‘vendor’ or ‘vendors.'”

Here’s the deal: Performance sure seems like a service, and throwing change in a hat — an exchanged donation — sure seems to meet the Department’s definition of “vend.”

This has long has artist advocates scratching their heads, and prompted them today to send Judge Milton Tingling — who’s presiding over a lawsuit on the issue — a letter demanding answers.

The Voice reached out to Parks again to see what’s up. A spokesman told us last week that: “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.”

Still, this doesn’t really answer our question: Why is Parks seemingly treating performers and artists differently when the department’s own rules seem to treat them the same way?

We’ll update if we hear back.