After Heated Hearing, Fate of New York’s Park Artists Remains Undecided


The lengthy legal battle between New York’s artist-vendors and the Department of Parks and Recreation continued this afternoon, as lawyers for both told Judge Richard Sullivan, of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, that the other side is wrong about the basic facts of the case.

In a hearing late this afternoon, Sullivan, who agreed in May to listen to additional artist arguments before deciding whether they could freely sell their wares in city parks, did not issue a decision.

Instead, he requested more time to review both the artists and city’s evidence, which appear to conflict.

During the hearing, the City’s attorney again said that the Department was not treating artists differently from performers.

A lawyer for the artists reiterated their claim — that they are being treated distinctly from entertainers — which they say makes the City’s policies unconstitutional.

Sheryl Neufeld, counsel for the City, argued that the artists could not have evidence that the Department is not providing them ample alternatives for places to sell their wares.

She says many haven’t even tried to comply with the regulations — which limit the location of artists in city parks — to see whether they work.

She also said that City is not treating performers differently than artists in allowing them back in parks.

Rather, Neufeld said that the recent decision not to ticket them is because the Department is awaiting a separate court decision which will decide whether entertainers are subject to limits, too.

(Of note: this comes on the heels of two seemingly contradictory claims made by the city: “It remains the Parks Department’s position that the Expressive Matter Vending Rules cover the activities of performers, musicians and buskers who entertain in exchange for a donation” and “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.” Check out our extensive coverage of artist issues here.)

Neufeld also said that the City is acting well within the boundaries of the Constitution.

She said that municipalities have the right to preserve the aesthetic of parks as well as make sure that they can be enjoyed by all users. The rules, she said, are legal as a way of preventing congestion. She said that the number of artist vendors had increased threefold, making necessary spacing regulations.

Julie Milner, who represents the artists and main plaintiff Robert Lederman, shot back at Neufeld, claiming that there is no evidence of congestion. She also argued that the City had repeatedly demonstrated animosity toward the artists, and even accused officials of misquoting Lederman as a way of instilling mistrust in their community.

She also said that the spaces where artists are allowed to sell their wares are insufficient, as they are located near garbage bins and sometimes subject to sprinkler spray and blocked by police cars.

Neufeld then countered that the City had the right to regulate vendors in parks, even if it means banning them outright from some greenspaces.

Sullivan took particular interest in this, pressing Neufeld to explain whether the City wanted to make this its position.

She clarified: “Their arguments are at the extreme, so we’re going to the extreme [hypothetical].”

It’s unclear when Sullivan will issue a decision. Check back to the Voice for updates.

Follow Victoria Bekiempis @vicbekiempis.

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