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The High Line Hates Artists

by Robert Lederman

The High Line prides itself on being one of NYC's most important art venues. It even has a paid full
time art curator. Unfortunately, the High Line hates artists.

When The High Line opened in 2009, one of the first things they did was to have 2 street artists
illegally arrested. I was the first artist to display their work on the High Line, the first arrested (2 times
in 2 weeks) and the first to sue and win.* Friends Of The High Line proudly documented the false
arrests they had demanded in their coffee table book, The High Line, (Phaedon Books, page 412).

To keep artists out of the park, the Friends Of The High Line pressured Mayor Mike Bloomberg and
Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe to enact severe anti-street artist rules for all NYC Parks. The new
2010 restrictions on artists eviscerated the free speech rights we had spent 20 years winning. Those
precedent setting Federal court rulings granted street artists full access to public streets and to all NYC
parks to create, display and sell First Amendment protected art, subject only to reasonable limits on the
size and placement of displays; limits which street artists and City officials had long accepted.

To justify the Parks Department enacting drastic new restrictions against street artists, the Friends of
the High Line co-founder testified at a public hearing that the park was too small and narrow to
accommodate art displays and that such displays would commercialize the park, make it dangerous for
pedestrians and damage the aesthetic Friends of the High Line wanted to achieve.* An entire public
park was envisioned as reserved for the corporate sponsored art approved by Friends of the High Line.

Fast forward to the present.

The High Line now hosts many overpriced food stands; a restaurant; sprawling corporate promotions;
fashion shows; product promotions; corporate-sponsored art displays and a new art gallery. The
officially-curated High Line art focuses on artists who are sponsored or collected by the wealthy
patrons of the High Line or promoted by the elitist galleries that surround the park.

Despite it being a publicly funded park, special events require substantial financial donations to
Friends of the High Line, sometimes millions of dollars for a one night event. From The Friends of the
High Line website:

Corporate and foundation events on the High Line may include sponsored public events or programs
and, on a limited basis, private corporate events on the High Line. Events on the High Line require a
significant contribution to support the park's maintenance and operations and are subject to the
approval of the City of New York and the Department of Parks & Recreation.

How are these millions of dollars in donations spent? Much of it pays the salaries of the High Lines'
top executives, some of whom earn more for a part time job than the Mayor or the US President. These
executives must negotiate as many corporate events as possible in order to collect their inflated salaries,
which totaled $1.3 million dollars in executive compensation in fiscal year 2015.*

Despite the park being 1.45 miles long, street artists are limited to 5 small 8' X 3' artist spots crammed
next to each other inside a dank unlit tunnel.

Although the park does not open until 9AM, to get one of the 5 spots an artist must line up as early as 3
AM. Each spot is marked by a plastic medallion. The 5 spots are usually held by the same art vendors.
Fights frequently break out out when any new artist tries to find a location.

Limiting artists' to 5 spots hidden in dark a tunnel is apparently not demeaning enough, so on many
days the Friends of the High Line eliminate anywhere from 2 to all 5 medallion spots to make way for a
corporate promotion or private party. The seasonal food cart concessions (which pay huge fees to the
Friends of the High Line), take up about 30 times the space these 5 little artists spots do, and are not
removed for events.

Art As A Cultural Cover Story

While systematically undermining artists' rights, The Friends Of The High Line uses high profile art
installations to attract corporate funding and obtain charitable donations from unsuspecting art lovers,
amounting to $18-20 million dollars per year.* The art installations are thinly-veiled camouflage for a
massive real estate scam disguised as a public park.

From conception, the High Line was intended to boost the property values of real estate investors,
which it has more than succeeded in doing. The ever-expanding glut of giant new residential towers
and exclusive stores that surround the park today, are in many cases owned by board members or major
contributors to The High Line.

The humiliations that the Friends of the High Line has inflicted on NYC's street artist community since
2010 should have come to an end on September 20, 2017. On that date, NY State Supreme Court Judge
Lucy Billings overturned the park rules that limited artists to those 5 medallion spots.

Instead, Friends Of The High Line and the Parks Department found a judge willing to suspend the
Billings ruling with a stay order based on the justification that the PEP (Parks Enforcement Patrol) and
artists would be confused by a change in enforcement policy. At the behest of Friends of the High
Line, the Parks Department is now attempting to overturn Judge Billings' ruling.
Friends of the High Line must be held accountable for their ongoing mistreatment of NYC artists and
their concerted efforts to destroy our constitutionally protected free speech rights throughout NYC.


*1. In a public letter, The Friends Of The High Line (FHL) will apologize to all NYC street artists for
how they have been treated and, in the interests of artists' First Amendment rights, demand that the
Parks Department drop their appeal of Judge Billings' ruling. This letter must be prominently published
by FHL in the NY Times, The Villager and in their FHL newsletter.

*2. The medallions located on The High Line and in Central Park, Union Square Park and Battery Park
are to be permanently removed.

*3. The PEP (Parks Enforcement Patrol) will return to enforcing the park rules in relation to street
artists (aka Expressive Matter Vendors) that were in effect before 2010, as per Judge Billings ruling.
Numerous top level Parks Department and PEP officials have testified under oath that these rules were
more than sufficient to protect the public and all NYC parks. Before 2010, the park rules for artists
were virtually identical to the NYC street vending rules for artists and are detailed here:

Until this controversy is fully resolved, we will strive to bring it to the attention of every person who
visits the High Line, donates to or otherwise supports it. The message will spread far and wide that
Friends Of The High Line hates artists.

* SEE: NY Times, Artist Arrested for 42nd Time, This Time on the High Line
The Villager, High Line arrest takes art argument to another level
The Villager, Saying hes being railroaded, artist is arrested again
*The Stay Order:
*High Line financials:
*Joshua David's 2010 testimony before the Parks Department:
*High Line art gallery:
*Renting the High Line for an event:
*High Line arrest videos:

Robert Lederman
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