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Castro tried his best to calm the fears of musicians, performers and community members about a newly amended park rule that severely restricts the right to perform for donations in NYC parks. The Commissioner gave a detailed 15 minute explanation to a packed hearing before Community Board #2’s Parks Committee about the effect of the just passed amendment to the Park Department’s “expressive matter vending regulations.” “This rule is not going to affect the musicians who come to the park to play” stated Castro. “You can perform from park benches, right next to a statue or on the grass…You don’t need a permit, you are not going to be asked to leave the park, you won’t get a ticket. You can pass the hat, collect donations, you are fine.” 15 minute video of Commissioner Castro’s statement http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dm0ZRkOx06E Official Parks Dept statement of the new rule for performers: http://www.scribd.com/doc/139075852/Expressive-Matter-Vendors-Notice-of-Adoption Castro went on to give detailed descriptions of how park performers will be allowed to perform everywhere in Washington Square Park, to set up tables, to vend CDs while performing and to work right next to fountains, arches and other park monuments. Earlier that same day, the Parks Department was telling a very different story. In a 75 page response brief filed earlier that morning in a First Amendment Federal lawsuit about the expressive matter vending rules, Parks Department lawyers claimed that performers and visual artists were both treated equally under, and both had to follow, the same rules. The City defendants have claimed throughout their legal submissions, in sworn affidavits and in oral testimony before the court that the rules are enforced equally against both visual artists and performers. The case, Lederman et al v Parks Department, is now being considered by the Second circuit Federal Appeals Court. From pg. 14 of the City defendant's answering brief filed May 1, 2013 “In this regard, therefore, all of plaintiffs’ contentions that the City’s disparate treatment of performers and artists demonstrates that the Vending Rules are not content-neutral are now moot. The fact that artists who sell merchandise for money and artists who perform in exchange for a donation are equally subject to the Vending Rules, as the City had originally intended, evidences the City’s effort and
intent to treat all expressive-matter vendors similarly.” Hundreds of artists have been excluded from parks across the city by the rules, which ban artists from selling on grass or plantings; within 50 feet of a monument, fountain or arch; and require that they be a minimum distance of five feet from trees, signs, walls, benches, fences and other park furniture. Additionally, they must be set up by a curb on a park path with a minimum pedestrian clearance of 12 feet from the outside edge of the artists’ 3 foot wide stand, i.e. a 15 foot wide path is required. There are almost no park paths that are 15 feet wide or wider. In four parks, Union Square, Central Park, Battery Park and on the High Line, artists are only allowed to vend on a very limited number of medallion marked spots located, except for the High Line, completely outside the parks. Earlier this week, City Councilmember Mellisa Mark-Viverito requested the Parks Department to revoke the rule. The Councilmember is chair of the City Council Parks Committee. In a related development the same evening as Commissioner Castro’s appearance, N.Y. State Assemblymember Debra J. Glick’s office delivered a letter to Community Board #2 strongly protesting the performer rule. See letter here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/139076849/Glick-Letter-Anti-Park-Rule The letter describes how a year ago Commissioner Castro gave the same assurances that performers would no longer be summonsed or banned after hundreds of summonses had been issued to performers under the rules. Many of the performers who attended last night’s meeting described being harassed, being threatened with arrest, ordered to leave Washington Square Park and various other parks and being issued scores of summonses for illegal vending while doing the exact same activities Commissioner Castro was describing as being totally legal. Commissioner Castro, who stated that he once headed the PEP (Parks Enforcement Patrol), blamed the summons blitz on an unnamed PEP officer whom Castro stated had issued the summonses completely on his own. Performers strongly objected to Castro’s statement that the summonses, which were issued in numerous parks by various officers acting under the direct supervision of high ranking PEP officials, were an aberration or that only one officer was involved. Park advocate Geoffrey Croft, who was closely involved in the summons blitz controversy in 2011, gave an impassioned defense of the PEP and strongly criticized Commissioner Castro for blaming PEP officers for what was clearly a Parks Department official policy. A number of performers at the meeting, including famed Washington Sq Park pianist Collin Huggins and sand painter Joe Mangrum, expressed concern that they did not know who to believe, since the published rules for performers clearly contradicted almost every
statement that Commissioner Castro was making. Robert Lederman, President of A.R.T.I.S.T. 201 777-0391 firstname.lastname@example.org Senior PEP (Parks Enforcement Patrol) officers stationed in WSP have explained to performers (see video linked below) that, “there is no location in WSP where you can do this legally.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b55iEv5-qDg Petition to stop the rules with hundreds of performer signatures and personal statements: https://www.change.org/petitions/mayor-mike-bloomberg-and-parks-commissionerveronica-white-repeal-the-park-restrictions-on-performers-musicians-and-artists For a detailed report on this issue see: http://www.scribd.com/doc/136741106/Park-Performers-Banned-%E2%80%93Again Full text of Expressive Matter Vending Rules http://www.scribd.com/doc/110304750/Expressive-Matter-Rule NOTE: The Parks Department recently removed the full text of the rules form its website. It has substituted a FAQ that omits most of the important legal language as well as details about enforcement.