As the city’s regulations on park performers have drawn scorn from the community, Community Board 2 held a “Washington Square Speak Out” Monday, Dec. 19. The meeting, held at the NYU Kimmel Center, gave locals a chance to voice their opinions on the Parks Department rules, which chiefly prohibit performers from soliciting donations within 50 feet of a monument.
It appeared that a majority of the attending public were against this rule, and many posited that Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the city were attempting to rid the city’s parks of performers in order to usher in more corporate operations in the vein of the holiday market currently open in Union Square.
William Castro, the Manhattan Borough commissioner for the Department of Parks and Recreation, attended the meeting and opened it with a few remarks. He maintained that the rules are misunderstood and said that the city isn’t attempting to ban performers. He noted that the city recognizes the importance of having performers in the park, but added that they hope to better regulate their activities to make parks vibrant and safe places for all. While some have argued that, due to the plethora of monuments in Washington Square Park, it is difficult—if not impossible—for a busker to find a legal spot to perform, Castro noted that there were many acceptable places, including the Garibaldi Stage.
Robert Lederman, president of Artists Response to Illegal State Tactics(ARTISTS), noted that he had visited the park with a tape measure and couldn’t find a spot that was 50 feet away from a monument. He believes the city hopes to make room for corporate vending.
“These rules seem to have come all of the sudden,” said Doris Diether, co-chair of CB2’s Landmarks and Public Aesthetics Committee. Deither, a longtime resident of the area, pointed out that musicians have been a fixture of the park since the 1950s.
Colin Huggins, known for playing a grand piano in the park, called himself “the big ticket winner” in terms of the amount he has been fined for performing. He noted that at minimum, he owed over $2,000, which he had to pay over a six-week period, but many generously donated to him to cover the costs.
Joe Mangrum, the artist responsible for the sand art pieces found in the park, said that when he first moved to New York City he was surprised by the freedom for self-expression and said that sense of freedom propels art in public spaces. “By killing this art, the park will be more vacant as a result,” he added.
Of course, a meeting involving themes of self-expression had to end on an artistic flourish with the opera singer Katie Kat, a masters student and adjunct professor of voice at New York University, belting out a musical piece in Italian. Kat, one half of the Opera Under the Arch duet, said she has been busking since she was a teenager and that for many artists in the park, public performance offers a chance for their talents to be discovered.
The Parks, Recreation and Open Space board is set to reconvene Jan. 14, 2012, at which point, noted board members, a resolution concerning these regulations will most likely be brought up. In the meantime, community members can send their comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Citizens Polled on Living Wage
According to a recent Quinnipiac University poll, 74 percent of New Yorkers are in favor of the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, also known as the Living Wage bill. In a statement, Living Wage NYC said of the poll results, “This sentiment reaches across political lines, as a whopping 56 percent of Republicans and 83 percent of Democrats agree that the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act would benefit the city—results consistent with an earlier Baruch College living wage poll.”
1,242 registered voters were polled Dec. 7 through Dec. 12. The Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act would make the minimum hourly wage for workers hired by companies that receive more than $1 million in city subsidies $10 per hour plus benefits or $11.50 without benefits.
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