Celebrating self-expression as a basic human right essential for the
healthy growth of youth, individuals and communities
COMMUNITY ARTS ADVOCATES, INC.
Stephen H. Baird, Founder and Executive Director
PO Box 300112, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130-0030
Tracking a Path Across the Globe to Interview, Photograph,
Film, and Discover the Life and Motivations of the World’s Street Artists!
and legal actions of Chris Drew for selling art on streets of Chicago
December 2009. ACLU challenges Illinois eavesdropping act - Lawsuit
cites cases of people charged with breaking the law for making audio
recordings of police in action August 2010
The History and Cultural Impact
of Street Performing in America
by Stephen Baird © Stephen Baird 2000-2013
The following little historical references are just a glimpse of the depth and breadth of the creative spirit of the human race that blossoms on the street corners, market places, subway platforms and any other place people gather.
New York City has been alive with street music since the time Native Peoples were caretakers of the island. There are many diaries with early accounts of street performers in the 1700s. Newspapers started to print articles on street performer and street entertainers in the mid 1700s. Laws about noise and complaints about vendor songs and cries, also document the flourishing sounds of street music.
The waves of immigrant migrations to New York City filled the city with music of every style and tradition. Out of this melting pot came artists like Eddie Cantor, George Burns and Irving Berlin.The Siberian born Jew who was to become to popular song writing what Heinz was to pickles arrived on the Lower East Side before his fifth birthday. Four years latter his father, a part-time cantor. died, and the boy went to work on the streets, singing for pennies. (Irving Berlin original name Isidore Baline)
Burns began his performing career at age seven as the tenor in a street singing group called the Peewee Quartet which performed in virtually every Lower East Side bar and cafe, and on occasion on the decks of the Staton Island ferry. (George Burns original name Nathan Birnbaum)
Live & Be Well: A Celebration of Yiddish Culture in America - From the First Immigrants to the Second World War, by Richard F. Shepard & Vicki Gold Levi, Ballantine Books, NY, 1982, pages 24 and 33
Mayor LaGuadia started a street performers ban in 1935 and the total ban went into effect on January 1, 1936. The New York Times had many articles on the public out cry over the ban. NBC Radio did a live broadcast in support of street performers. Judges dismissed cases, but the ban remained in effect until 1970, when Mayor Lindsey lifted the street performance ban.
The ban in NYC hurt the whole country because many instruments including street "Hurdy Gurdy" organs were bought and repaired there.
The "Beat" movement of the 1950s and early 1960s "Folk Revival" exploded with the Washington Square Riots in April 1961. Federal Court cases by poet Allen Ginzberg and folk singers started the First Amendment legal challenge of the street music ban.
Mayor Lindsey finally lifted the street performance ban in 1970.
The troubles did not end. Technically people are allowed to perform with out a license anywhere in the city if no amplification is being used. However, without a license to perform, many street entertainers are asked to "move on." The court case below highlight the ongoing issues.
- Turley v. NYC 988 F.Supp, 667 & 675 (1997). See US 2nd Cir Appeal 98-7114 (1999) (Amplification)
- Bery v. New York, 97 F. 3d 684 (2d Cir. 1996) (Visual Art)
- Carew-Reid v. Metropolitan Transportation Auth., 903 F2d 914 (2nd Cir. 1990) (Subway)
- Christopher Mastrovincinzo (a.k.a. "MASTRO"), and Kevin Santos (a.k.a. "NAC" OR "NAK") v NEW YORK CITY 313 F SUPP 2D 280 (2004) (Vendors)
- The last case was appealed to the Second Circuit and was reversed in January 2006, Additional appeals are being considered.
- Josh Weiner "Juggler Josh" firstname.lastname@example.org was arrested in Times Square in May 2005. Some balloon artists were arrested in 2006. The criminal case against Josh was dismissed and Josh won damages in civil action against the city for the false arrest with the support of Attorney Robert Perry (Attorney Robert Perry also worked on the Turley case). Details can be read in his email at the end of this page.
- From: email@example.com
Date: May 27, 2011 10:27:31 AM EDT
Subject: Frustrated NYC Subway platform guitar player
Thank you for taking the time to read my email.
My name is Keni Lee Burgess and I am an NYC subway platform performer. www.youtube.com/kenileeburgess
Over the years, I have been becoming increasingly more and more frustrated with the NYC PD.
It has been my understanding from numerous phone calls with the MTA that playing guitar is legal as long as certain guidelines are followed.
I play acoustically and sing. No amplification.
Although, the MTA will not offer any solid publication or documentation of their position.
Police officers tell me, I cannot play. It is illegal. They say I need a permit. They are constantly erroneously referring to the MUNY program that in collaboration with Grand Central Station issues a very limited amount of permits for inside the station at designated spots. Not the platforms. Only 20 or less permits a year, after participating in 2 auditions. I have been invited twice to try out in the live Grand Central Station audition. Twice, I did not make it. In my opinion it is very difficult, due to the high level of many of the other musicians, who frankly are not street musicians. This competition caters to a "community of musicians" that is completely detached from the unorganized body of actual street performers.
Please help me become more proactive. How should I proceed?
Thank you for your assistance, Keni Lee Burgess
New York City Curtails Street Performers and Street Artists in City Parks 2010-2013
- New rule limits NYC's street musicians. Originally published: April 22, 2013 By MARIA ALVAREZ. Special to Newsday http://newyork.newsday.com/news/new-york/new-rule-limits-nyc-s-street-musicians-1.5122138 Mandating that musicians perform on 100 spots in which a medallion is embedded in concrete, will be enforced by Park Enforcement Patrol and NYPD officers. Violators could receive a summons and a $250 fine; Perform at least 5 feet away from a park bench, and 50 feet from a statue at Central Park, Battery Park, the High Line and Union Square Park.
- Street Artists say they're performing again without fear of big fines in Washington Square Park by John Doyle, Janaury 1, 2012 NY Daily News - Rule barring performances wihtin 50 feet of monuments under fire http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/street-artists-performing-fear-big-fines-washington-square-park-article-1.999502
- From: Mike <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: June 3, 2011 8:41:57 AM EDT
Subject: Music ban at Bethesda Fountain in Central Park
Hi, my name is Mike Lerario and I have started a Facebook page to convince NYC to stop ticketing the acoustic performers for playing at the fountain recently. Street performers have been playing there for years. Below you will find links to the NY Post article, and our 'Bring Back The Music... page. Any guidance/help would be appreciated. Thanks.Articles in area papers and web sites on this issue:
- New York Post: Musicians chased from Central Park By Cynthia R. Fagan. Published: May 28, 2011
- Musician Crackdown At Central Park's Bethesda Fountain. Published: May. 29, 2011 http://awalkintheparknyc.blogspot.com/2011/05/musician-crackdown-at-central-parks.html
- New York Times Editorial: Quiet? In New York City? Published: June 1, 2011 http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/02/opinion/02thu4.html?_r=1
- The Associated Press: NYC Central Park musicians told to shut up. Published: May. 29, 2011 http://www.sacbee.com/2011/05/29/3662771/nyc-central-park-musicians-told.html
- Temporary Restraining Order Lifted In Park Artist Case - Enforcement Begins Today. Published May 19, 2011 http://awalkintheparknyc.blogspot.com/2011/05/temporary-restraining-order-lifted-in.html
Subway performers are constantly threatened by over zealous police officers. This article in the Gothamist on February 11, 2012 about a law suit by subway performers trying to stop the harassment by NYPD highlights the issue:
Racist Cop Went On Hateful Online Rampage, Subway Performers Allege
Theo Eastwind has web site with some tips for performing in NYC subways including appealing tickets and educating the police at:
Theo also has page on City Lore's web site with tips about performing in NYC at http://citylore.org/about-city-lore/resources/theo-eastwinds-guide-for-street-performers/
Susie Tanenbaum who wrote Underground Harmonies - Music & Politics in the Subways of New York (Cornell University Press 1995) also published a 40 page phamplet Know Your Rights in 1996 through City Lore, 72 East 1st Street, New York, NY 10003 Telephone: 212-529-1955 Email: email@example.com It has pages in both Spanish and Russian. It does not include the new court cases.
Current updated web site version published in 2012 at: http://citylore.org/urban-culture/resources/street-performers/
http://www.streetmusicny.com "Street Music" documentary film which focuses on NY street and subway artists by JD Marlow. Completed in July 2003.Site and dvd film includes historical and legal references, interviews with Susie J. Tanenbaum (Underground Harmonies), Robert Turley (Street bass player who filed Federal law suit against NYC) a host of other street perfomers, Music under New York administrators, Fred Kent from Project for Public Spaces, historical film clips by Willim H. Whyte, film clip of arrests. Comprehensive documentary explores performances in public spaces.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/NYCStreetArtists/ or http://www.openair.org/alerts/artist/nyc.html Robert Lederman, President of A.R.T.I.S.T. (Artists' Response To Illegal State Tactics), Ph: 201 896-1686 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Site on visual and vendors artists fight in New York City
http://www.preservewashingtonsquarepark.com Preserving Washington Square Park site in New York City by Ray Brizzi. Be sure to read study by Project for Pubic Spaces on the uses of the park. Also link to photogapher H. J. Steed web site http://www.pbase.com/hjsteed/washington_square is wonderful gallery of street musicians and other artists http://www.pbase.com/hjsteed/wsp_musicians
http://a.parsons.edu/~sis/stephanie/final/intro.html Stephanie Ormston school multi-media web site project on Street Performers in Washington Square Park.
http://newmedia.jrn.columbia.edu/2003/issue2/story2/index.html Site on New York City subway perfomances done as Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism project.
http://www.streetvendor.org Street Vendor Project works to correct the social and economic injustice faced by these hardworking entrepreneurs. Reaching out to vendors on the street, we hold clinics to educate vendors about their legal rights. Working to support a local vendors' rights movement, we organize vendors to participate in the political process that determines their fate. Finally, we engage in systemic advocacy to help policy makers and the public understand the important role street vendors play in the life of our city. Urban Justice Center, 666 Broadway, 10th Floor, New York, NY 10012, Sean Basinski, Coordinator, Phone 646.602.5600
http://webtunes.com/streetfair.cfm New York City Street Fairs & Markets -- some farmers markets allow street performances
Selected references -- References are from the New York Times unless noted differently.
Only a few Italians play in London now, due to Facistis ban--
Unemployed exservicemen have supplemented Italian organ grinders in the streets of London. A Fascist edict withholds passports because such means of livelihoods derogates from the prestige of fascist Italy.
"There were nearly 1000 Italians cranking organs in London before the war. Now there are only three or four says Luigi Pesaresi who made instruments for 50 years --still 400 played. Ex Officers would wear black mask while wife and children collect pennies.
Date: Wed Aug 30, 2006 11:44:46 AM US/Eastern
Subject: MUNY False Arrest Lawsuit
Dear Mr. Baird,
My name is Josh Weiner, a Street Performer here in NYC since 1990. Thanks again for your support with the South Street Seaport busker's fee that was resolved in our favor. The program continues to support street performers at the Historic Seaport with annual auditions and the performers work for tips, although recieve no salary of other benefits. Last year our festival was included in the River to River Festival thanks to your generous support. Thanks for sharing this information at Community Arts Advocates.
Last year in May, I was arrested working with my Music Under New York permit in Times Square and detained for the weekend. I missed other work and was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and reckless endangerment. the charges were dismissed due to eyewitness accouts, letters of support from work and MUNY, and a good Legal Aid lawyer Ms. Bella.
I have filed suit against the City of New York due to the false arrest and detainment, and lost work. I have a lawyer Mr. Perry here in New York. I'll keep you posted on the outcome.
Since the arrest, other performers have approached me with similar stories this 2006. Two indepentently working Balloon Artists were arrested because they had a "machine" that "looked like a bomb." When explaining to the Police that it was used to "Blow Up" latex balloons for the public, as part of their craft, they were arrested and detained. One of the artists, Sasha, was taken from his bicycle and the officers arrested him with guns drawn. In both instances, the machines, metallic black boxes, were torn apart as possible bombs, to check the contents. The machines, I was told, cost $850. They were given no compensation for the arrests.
Performing at the Seaport has been with few such instances. The regulations with Management and Property Security have been those of protocol and scheduling the appropriate performers. It has been a successful year for the Seaport with special events attendance and Tourist attendance in NYC.
I performed a few times with MUNY after my arrest last May 2005. The performances were without incident, I worked with my permit and again with the MUNY guidelines. Independent performers are legal in the MTA, and most work without interruption.
I hope all is peaceful in Boston.
Sincerely, Josh Weiner
NOTE: He won a court case and settlement against New York City in January 2007 for the false arrest.
Copyright © 1999-2013 by Stephen Baird