Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Vendors Thumb Nose at City Restriction by Colin Moynihan - City Room Blog - NYTimes.com

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One of many artists who protested in Union Square on Monday over new city regulations for artists in parks. Photographs by David Goldman for The New York Times

New rules for selling art in public parks went into effect on Monday morning, and in Union Square Park little was going as planned, at least from the city’s point of view.

The park is one of four in New York, including Central Park, where the city will restrict the number of sellers of paintings, photographs, books and sculptures.

Another artist wrote a passage from the First Amendment on the sidewalk.

The parks department had installed plastic medallions the size of silver dollars and emblazoned with the words “Expressive Matter Vendor” around the perimeter of Union Square Park to designate places where the selling of fine art, photography and other materials would be permitted. But more than 100 artists who showed up at the park on Monday ignored those markers and instead milled at the southern end of Union Square, where they brandished signs and shouted their disapproval of the new rules.

“We’re going to stay inside this park and away from the marked spaces,” said Robert Lederman, an organizer of an advocacy group called Artist. “We’re going to defy the mayor and we’re going to defy the parks department.”

The rules, which the city announced a few months ago, limit the number of artists allowed to sell materials in or near Union Square Park, Central Park, Battery Park and the High Line. At Union Square, for instance, 18 artists are permitted to set up tables and sell on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The number of available spots there will rise to 58 on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said the regulations were necessary because the artists were causing congestion. The artists denounced the rules as chilling free expression and challenged them in court. But on Friday a federal judge in Manhattan, Richard J. Sullivan, ruled that the rules seemed reasonable and that the city could enforce them.

Artists said they hoped to appeal, but in the short term they said they would move their battle to the court of public opinion. As knots of police officers and parks enforcement officers stood by on Monday morning the artists held aloft paintings and placards. They made speeches and chanted slogans. One man used chalk to write a passage from the United States Constitution on the sidewalk.

Jessica Hollander, a 34-year-old painter from Ridgewood, Queens, held a sign that read, “Bloomberg thinks artists have no value,” and she said she had been selling paintings in Union Square for about 18 months.

“I think this is a fight worth fighting,” she said. “It’s a tragedy to limit the number of artists out here and it’s scary to think of everything here becoming corporate.”

Nearby, John Conn, 61, a photographer from the Bronx, said that he thought the city was trying to squeeze artists out of the parks in deference to business interests.

A brief thundershower sent the artists running for the protection of a subway entrance overhang, but the sun soon emerged and the painters, photographers and sculptors returned to the southern plaza and began using umbrellas to ward off the glare from above.

Mr. Lederman surveyed the crowd and pronounced the event a success.

“We turned this almost into Woodstock,” he said. “This place is livelier now than it has been all year.”