Resources

A Guide for Street Performers

1.Purpose of this Guide | 2.Some History | 3.Your Rights & Responsibilities | 4.Court Decisions in your Favor | 5.The Transit Police | 6.Transit Police Fact Check | 7.Station Managers | 8.Music Under New York | 9.Legal Assistance | 10. If You Get A Summons | 11. Performing on the Streets and in the Parks | 12.Our Views | 13. Etiquette | 14. Street Performing Across the United States | 15. What Do You Think? | 16.Bibliography | 17.Special Thanks

Know Your Rights!
A Guide for Subway Musicians & Other Performers
(revised edition, © 2012)

By Susie Tanenbaum with The Street Performers Advocacy Project and City Lore

1. PURPOSE OF THIS GUIDE

You have a right to perform in the subways, on the sidewalks, and in the parks of New York City. The purpose of this guide is to clarify your rights and responsibilities as public space performers, especially when you are setting up underground. We also hope that officers in the New York Police Department, Station Managers, and Hearing Officers will find this guide useful when they are implementing New York City Transit regulations permitting subway performances.

The Street Performers’ Advocacy Project was formed in 1996 as a coalition of musicians and activists who were united in their belief that street and subway performers make a valuable contribution to this city. They decided that a guide would advance their goal of encouraging spontaneous expression and a sense of community whenever and wherever possible. In the same spirit, we have revised the guide to reflect more recent court rulings and current government policies. Now that the guide is on the web, we hope to update it on a more regular basis.

The sections of this guide are as follows:

SOME HISTORY shows that, as a street performer, you are carrying on a tradition that is as old as civilization itself.

YOUR RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES outlines the New York City Transit regulations, and explains what you are authorized to do.

COURT DECISIONS IN YOUR FAVOR highlights many of the legal rulings that uphold the rights of street and subway performers.

THE TRANSIT POLICE explains the role of officers underground and suggests some options for dealing with confrontations.

TRANSIT POLICE FACT CHECK is a quick reference so that you know what is true and what is false.

STATION MANAGERS explains their role and suggests ways to handle confrontations.

MUSIC UNDER NEW YORK describes the MTA’s music program and how it co-exists with freelance performances.

LEGAL ASSISTANCE lists names of attorneys who have agreed to be contacted for advice.

IF YOU GET A SUMMONS offers tips on how to prepare for a court appearance.

PERFORMING ON THE STREETS AND IN THE PARKS provides basic information about recent rulings and policies affecting performances in the city’s other major public spaces.

OUR VIEWS is where we share with you how we think the rules governing subway and street performing could be improved.

ETIQUETTE features busker Theo Eastwind’s informal code of conduct for his fellow street performers.

STREET PERFORMING ACROSS THE UNITED STATES includes links to valuable updates and resources.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? outlines our proposed online Resource List, and we hope many of you will contribute to it.

Here are some abbreviations that you will come across in this guide:

MTA: Metropolitan Transportation Authority
NYCT: New York City Transit
NYPD: New York Police Department
MUNY: Music Under New York

Please let us know what you think of this guide! You can reach us at: (212) 529-1955 or at steve@citylore.org

Thanks,

Susie Tanenbaum, Street Performers’ Advocacy Project
Steve Zeitlin, City Lore

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2. SOME HISTORY

As long as there have been streets, there have been street performers. In ancient Egypt and Greece, people entertained and passed the hat for donations. During the Middle Ages in Europe, troubadours were the personal street performers of the aristocrats, while minstrels and jongleurs brought joy to the general public.

In colonial America, twelve-year-old Benjamin Franklin sang on the streets of Philadelphia! At the turn of the century, immigrants helped to make street performing popular in New York. There were German marching bands and Italian organ grinders—”hurdy gurdies”—who serenaded women below their tenement windows. During the Great Depression, banjo players set up on subway and elevated platforms.

Government authorities never knew exactly what to make of street performing. They seemed to think its spontaneity was a threat to law and order. In the 1930s, New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia called them beggars (he defended the poor but disapproved of panhandling), and he made it illegal to perform on New York City’s streets. 

Although street performing was allowed once again after 1970, subway performances were illegal until the 1980s. And yet the elevated and underground subway platforms were not quiet. Artists still expressed themselves and attracted an audience underground. In the 1940s, for example, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and others involved in the growing Urban Folk Revival Movement pulled out guitars while waiting for their trains. Not only did they reclaim public space, they believed that songs could change social conditions.

In the early 1960s, young African American and Italian American men sang doo-wop inside subway cars and received donations from appreciative riders. In 1987, with the creation of an official MUNY (Music Under New York) program, public performers have been recognized by authorities. The program is now funded and directed by the MTA Arts for Transit office.

Whether you were raised in New York City or in a country with its own street performing tradition, you are helping to carry on a respected urban tradition.

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3. YOUR RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES

YOU HAVE A FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHT TO PERFORM IN THE NEW YORK CITY SUBWAY SYSTEM
The New York City Transit (NYCT) is the subdivision of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) that operates the city’s subways and buses. The NYCT authorizes these types of free expression in subway stations:

“Public speaking; distribution of written materials; solicitation for charitable, religious or political causes; and artistic performances, including the acceptance of donations [emphasis added].”

The statement we just quoted comes from Section 1050.6 (c) of the New York City Transit rules and regulations governing “non-transit use of transit facilities”. As a consequence of the regulations, these activities are also protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution [see the end of this guide for the full text of the regulations]. Government (in this case, the NYCT) can only regulate the time, place, or manner in which the activities are presented, and only if restricting them advances a substantial government interest. This translates into the following restrictions on performances:

• setting up at least 25 feet from a token booth

• setting up at least 50 feet from the marked entrance to an NYCT office or tower

• not blocking access to an escalator, stairwell, or elevator

• not interfering with transit services or passenger movement in general

• not performing in an area where construction is underway

• not performing during a public service announcement

• not performing above 85 dBa measured at 5 feet, or above 70 dBa measured at 2 feet, from a token booth

• not performing in subway cars

YOU DO NOT NEED A MUNY PERMIT TO PERFORM IN THE SUBWAYS
Some subway performers are members of the MTA’s Music Under New York program, also known as MUNY. Other performers are independent, and in this guide we refer to them as freelancers.

MUNY schedules performances on designated mezzanines in the subway system and commuter railroad terminals. You have to pass an audition to become a member of MUNY. Twice a month, MUNY members receive a schedule (“permit”), which gives them priority in the spots where they are scheduled to perform. You do not have to be a MUNY member to perform in the subway system! Also, MUNY has nothing to do with subway platforms.

YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO PERFORM ACOUSTIC MUSIC ON SUBWAY PLATFORMS AND AMPLIFIED MUSIC ON SUBWAY MEZZANINES
Freelancers are authorized to perform on subway platforms. But the NYCT prohibits the use of amplification devices on platforms, including battery-operated Mouse amps and microphones. Freelancers, just like MUNY members, may use amplification when they perform on subway mezzanines.

NO CD SALES: Neither MUNY members nor freelancers are authorized to sell CD recordings in the subway system. Many of them do anyway, and they risk getting ticketed by the Transit Police or having their property confiscated.

YOU CAN FREELANCE IN PARTS OF GRAND CENTRAL TERMINAL
The MTA Police rules and regulations for Metro-North Railroad state: “Applications for permits to conduct noncommercial activities within Grand Central Terminal may be obtained at the genral superintendent’s office in Grand Central Terminal between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. on Monday through Friday, excluding holidays.” Requests should be made at least 2 days in advance. For more information, go to: http://www.mta.info/mta/police/rules_mnr.html.

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4. COURT DECISIONS IN YOUR FAVOR

By the 1970s, street performers in many U.S. cities were going to court to have their Constitutional rights upheld. Here are some highlights:

  • Goldstein v. Town of Nantucket 477 F.Supp. 606 (D. Mass. 1979) established that street music, even when performed for donations, is protected First Amendment activity: “The fact that plaintiff troubadour accepted contributions of passersby during his public performance would not dilute his protection under the First Amendment.”
  • In Davenport v. Alexandria, Va. 683 F2d 853 (1983), 748 F2d 208 (1984)the court held that there were no valid safety arguments to stop musicians from performing: “There has been shown no safety interest to outweigh the plaintiff’s First Amendment interests.”
  • As for the New York subways, already in the 1960s People v. St. Clair 56 Misc.2d 326 (Criminal Ct. N.Y. Cty. 1968) ruled that “for First Amendment purposes, no distinction can be wrought between a subway platform and the public street.”

Still, until 1985, musical performances were not permitted in New York’s subway system. Then guitarst Roger Manning received a summons on the Lexington Avenue & 59th Street platform for “entertaining passengers”, which he challenged in Manhattan Criminal Court. The case became known as People v. Manning Docket No. 5N038025V (Criminal Ct. N.Y. Cty. 1985). In this case, the court decided that the total ban on subway music “was unconstitutionally violative of the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.”

In 1989, the Transit Authority (the old name of the NYCT) proposed to ban music on subway platforms. At some remarkable public hearings, musicians, subway riders, politicians, and civil liberties attorneys spoke, sang, and juggled in opposition to the ban. The Transit Authority listened, but it banned amplification devices on platforms instead.

Guitarist Lloyd Carew-Reid, who had formed an organization called STAR, Subway Troubadours Against Repression, challenged the amp ban in court. Carew-Reid v. Metropolitan Transportation Authority, 1990 WL 3216 at 6 (S.D.N.Y. 1996), was the first federal case to affirm that “the TA [Transit Authority] has designated the subway platforms as public forums for musical expression.”

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Transit Authority’s right to impose the amp ban on platforms, which remains in effect today.  But it is important to note that subway performances are an authorized activity to this day!

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5. THE TRANSIT POLICE

The Transit Police Bureau is a subdivision of the New York Police Department. Transit Police officers are responsible for enforcing the NYCT rules and regulations.

Many officers are friendly to subway performers, and some really appreciate the way a performance can brighten up the subway environment. At the same time, the police are allowed to use their discretion in implementing the NYCT regulations. So, if a performer is not playing by one of the rules, officers can decide whether to let it go, issue a warning or a ticket, eject the performer from the station, or even put the performer under arrest.

If you have a confrontation with the police—if they tell you to change the way you are performing, move you, or tell you to leave—you still have options.

Objecting: You may want to assert your rights by raising objections with the officers. Be aware, however, that in doing this, you may run a greater risk of receiving a summons, having your property confiscated, being charged with “disorderly conduct”, or getting arrested.

Complying: Another way of asserting your rights is to comply with the officers’ orders (doing what they say) for the moment and to challenge their actions in court later.

Here are some other options, depending upon the situation.

Volume: If the police stop you for playing above the 85-decibel volume limit and you think they’re wrong, you can say that you want them to measure your volume with a decibel meter. Their District Command should have a decibel meter.

Harassment: If you feel that the police are treating you unfairly or using excess force, take down their badge numbers. Also, ask riders standing nearby if they are willing to be your witnesses, and if they are, take down their names and phone numbers. Use one of the Confrontation Sheets on this web site to collect all of the information. Then you can call one of the attorneys listed on this web site for further advice.

If you get a ticket, make sure you show up in court or respond by mail before the court date. Most tickets require performers to appear either at the Transit Adjudication Bureau at 505 Fulton Street in Brooklyn, or in Criminal Court at 100 Centre Street in Manhattan. It is difficult to challenge a ticket if it charges you with violating one of the NYCT rules, but check the ticket for errors. You can also contact one of the attorneys on this web site for advice.

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6. TRANSIT POLICE FACT CHECK

During our research, we learned from many of you that some Transit Police officers get the rules wrong. Be aware of what’s false and what’s true!

FALSE: You need a MUNY permit to perform in the subways.
TRUE: Everyone has a right to perform in the subways, subject only to time-place-manner regulations.

FALSE: You can perform, but not for donations.
TRUE: You are authorized to perform and accept donations.

FALSE: No music is allowed on subway platforms.
TRUE: Acoustic music is allowed on platforms. Acoustic or amplified music is allowed on mezzanines.

FALSE: Subway music is banned at certain stations.
TRUE: Transit Police officers have the discretion to decide whether or not to enforce regulations. They may also tell musicians to lower their volume or to stop performing for a while, for instance, during rush hours. But they can not keep musicians out of a station permanently.

If you feel that some officers are misenforcing the rules, show them a printout of this guide, or let us know! (212) 529-1955; steve@citylore.org.

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7. STATION MANAGERS

Station Managers are the NYCT employees responsible for monitoring the “quality of life” of their stations. They do this by overseeing any necessary repairs or renovations and by providing customer service to subway riders.

Some performers have reported at least as many confrontations with Station Managers as with the Transit Police. Station Managers do not have the authority to give you tickets, but they have the same discretion as police officers to tell you to lower your volume, or to stop performing at times when an area of the station is very crowded.

Here are a few things you can do in confrontations with Station Managers:

Objecting: You always have the option of raising objections. Just realize that this may lead to an escalation of the conflict.

Complying: Instead of objecting, you can comply with the orders, and use the Confrontation Sheets on this web site to write down everything that happened. Then you can contact one of the attorneys on this web site for advice on how to proceed.

Educating: Show the Station Managers a copy of this guide, and specifically Section 1050.6 (c) of the NYCT rules and regulations. They should appreciate learning something about the rules that they didn’t know before!

Reporting: If none of these steps resolve the situation and you believe you’re being treated unfairly by a Station Manager, you can “complain to the boss”— write to the NYCT President, Thomas F. Prendergast, at New York City Transit, 370 Jay Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201. Or contact us at City Lore, at (212) 529-1955 or steve@citylore.org.

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8. MUSIC UNDER NEW YORK (MUNY)

What it is
MUNY is a program of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Arts for Transit and Urban Design. The MUNY program schedules performances in NYC Transit subway stations and commuter railroad terminals — including Grand Central Terminal, Penn Station, and Atlantic Terminal. Designated MUNY subway spots are often located in station mezzanine areas.

How to apply
To become a member of MUNY, you have to audition and be accepted. The auditions are held once a year. Along with the completed application form, the MUNY program requires applicants to mail a CD or DVD of their performances in advance. For additional information and an audition application form, visit the MTA web site at www.mta.info/art. Please be aware that a great audition doesn’t guarantee you a place in MUNY; the program only has space for about 20 new members a year. But once you’re accepted, you’re in—your membership doesn’t expire.

How it works
MUNY members request spots twice a month. As a MUNY member, you receive schedules printed on cards that are often referred to as “Schedule Cards,” listing the locations and times at which you are scheduled to perform. There is no such thing as a “permit” for subway performances.

Membership advantages
Priority in popular spots: There are designated MUNY performance locations. As a MUNY performer, you have priority in your scheduled MUNY spot. If you find independent, “freelance” musicians in your spot when you are scheduled to perform, you can ask them to leave.

Access to commuter railroad terminals: Only MUNY members are authorized to perform on Grand Central Terminal’s lower level and in Penn Station’s Long Island Rail Road waiting area. However, you can freelance in other parts of Grand Central Terminal (see Section 3 above).

Fewer problems: Since MUNY members are scheduled through the MUNY program, and law enforcement is familiar with the program, there may be fewer misunderstandings. If, as a MUNY member, you encounter difficulties, you have an opportunity to discuss problems with MUNY representatives.

CD sales in commuter railroad terminals: MUNY members may legally sell CDs in the terminals, but not in subway stations (although many do).

Referrals: MUNY serves as a referral source for performers. Corporations and individuals call the program to find out how to contact and hire MUNY members. The MTA website, www.mta.info/art, also provides information on performers.

Rules and restrictions
MUNY members, as well as freelance performers, are subject to the NYCT regulations.

Permits and banners: As a MUNY performer, you must show your MUNY Schedule Cards to police officers or Station Managers when asked. MUNY members are expected to hang their MUNY banners during performances. MUNY performers should not display conflicting visual signage (such as photos of themselves).

No CD sales on mezzanines: Although some believe that MUNY performers may sell CDs, the NYCT Rules of Conduct do not state this right specifically. Freelancers and MUNY performers who sell CDs are at risk of receiving a summons from the police and having having their recordings confiscated.

Contract waiver: MUNY members must sign a contract to be a part of the program. Performers assume all risks and responsibility. Performers give up certain rights in case of accidents.

MUNY members may perform as freelancers, too. As a freelancer, you are not required to schedule your performance with MUNY.

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9. LEGAL ASSISTANCE

The following attorneys and organizations are willing to be contacted if you have confrontations with the police or experience other problems during your public space performances. Please call, email, or write to them for advice:

Marnie Berk, Esq.
Director of Pro Bono Programs
New York Lawyers for the Public Interest
151 West 30th Street, New York, NY 10001
(212) 244-4664

New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU)
125 Broad Street, New York, NY 10004
(212) 607-3300; www.nyclu.org

Gene Russianoff, Staff Attorney
New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG)
9 Murray Street, New York, NY 10007
(212) 349-6460; www.nypirg.org

For legal advice on matters other than performing in the subways and on the streets, you can contact one of these Legal Services offices by visiting www.legalservicesnyc.org or calling:

Manhattan — (212) 431-7209
Brooklyn — (718) 237-5500
Queens — (718) 392-5646

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10. IF YOU GET A SUMMONS

Gene Russianoff, Legal Director of NYPIRG (New York Public Interest Research group), recommends looking over your summons carefully and checking for errors.  For instance, if there is no date written down, or if the violation listed does not really exist, the Hearing Officer may decide it is invalid.

Glen Bolofsky, CEO of www.parkingticket.com, offers these three helpful tips:

1. KNOW THE RULES: If the judge thinks you don’t know your stuff, Glen says, you’ll have no credibility. Street performing is how you earn a living and pay your bills. You’re proud of what you do. You’re a professional. Before going to the hearing, make sure you are familiar with the NYCT Rules of Conduct (listed in Section 3 of this guide).

2. EVIDENCE — THE MORE, THE BETTER: Ask witnesses to send you a text message with a description of what happened between you and the police. Take photos of your performance spot, to show that you were not causing a safety hazard. Have a tape measure with you! If your summons charges you with being too close to a stairwell or platform edge, take a picture of your performance spot with the tape measure visible in it, then bring the tape measure to your hearing!  Also, realize that the judge is graded for every dismissal. Make the judge “happy” — give him (or her) enough evidence to defend the decision to rule in your favor.

3. CLOTHES MAKE THE (WO)MAN: You are a performer — know your audience at the hearing. No tatoos, no street look. Don’t be flamboyant. Dress for success! Wear a suit. The judge is under a lot of stress and appreciates this kind of respect.  Glen says, “The odds are on your side — just do your homework.”

Here is our Confrontation Sheet, which you can also print out and use:

CONFRONTATION SHEET
PDF version to print

Your Name: ___________________________________
Your Telephone Number: _______________________

Your Email Address: ________________________

INCIDENT (Please check as many as apply):
__ Stopped 
__ Ejected 
__ Ticketed 
__ Harassed 
__ Other: 

Date: _______________________
Time: _______________________
Place: _______________________

WHO WAS INVOLVED:
Name: ___________________________
Title/Badge “# if any: ________________

Name: ___________________________
Title/Badge “# if any: ________________

Name: ___________________________
Title/Badge “# if any: ________________ 

WITNESSES (Please include riders and other performers)
Name: ____________________________________
Telephone Number: _________________________

Email Address: _____________________________

Name: ____________________________________
Telephone Number: _________________________

Email Address: _____________________________

Name: ____________________________________
Telephone Number: _________________________

Email Address: _____________________________

WHAT HAPPENED (Please describe briefly below)
__________________________________________________________________

__________________________________________________________________

__________________________________________________________________

__________________________________________________________________

__________________________________________________________________

 

11. PERFORMING ON THE STREETS AND IN THE PARKS

Streets and parks are traditional public forums, places which “by long tradition or government fiat have been devoted to assembly or debate.” [Perry Education Association v. Perry Educators’ Association, 460 U.S. 37, 45-46 (1983)] This means that you definitely have a constitutional right to express yourself in them.

Streets
Since the 1970s, there has been no need to apply for a license to sing or play acoustic music on the streets of New York. But now there is a permit requirement for the use of amplifiers, also known as sound devices. Street performers who use sound devices are required to apply for a permit from the New York City Police Department (NYPD). Specifically, you have to contact the Commnity Affairs Office in the precinct overseeing the area where yuo want to set up and perform. The permit costs $45 for the first day, and an extra $5 for each consecutive day within a five-day period. (This five-day system began in 1996; before that, sound device permits cost $29 per day.) Musicians are expected to apply for the permit seven days before they perform. You have to provide the time, date, and location of each performance. The permit will state that your amplified performance may not exceed a volume level of 85 decibels at a distance of ten feet.

During the 1990s, a street musician went to court to challenge these regulations. In Turley v. New York City Police Dept., 988 F.Supp. 675 (1997), Robert Turley challenged the city’s amplification rules as violating his free speech and equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution. He also challenged the Parks Department’s permitting system; police confiscation of musical instruments and equipment; and the city’s Vendor Law for requiring a license to sell CD recordings.

In this jury trial, Turley was granted personal damages, as well as a new trial. (One positive outcome for street msuicians was that the NYPD raised the volume limit from 75 decibels at six feet to 85 decibels at ten feet.) But in Turley v. New York City Police Dept., U.S. 2nd Cir. Appeal 98-7114 (1998), the Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed “the reasonableness of the coity’s sound permit fees.” Also, in a follow-up case, Turley v. Giuliani, 86 F.Supp. 2d 291 (2000), the city’s volume limits were upheld. (The judge did require the city’s Department of Environmental Protection to come up with a reliable set of standards for measuring decibel levels.)

Still to this day, the sound device permit requirement is not always enforced consistently throughout the city. Some amplified musicians perform without a sound device permit. Many continue to sell CD recordings. They risk getting ticketed by the police or possibly having their property confiscated.

If you plan to apply for a sound device permit, here is a link for finding and contacting NYPD precincts around New York City: http://www.nyc.gov/html/nypd/html/precinct_maps/precinct_finder.shtml. Each precinct has a phone number listed for the Community Affairs Office. While some precincts are more welcoming than others, it can be helpful to introduce yourself to the officers in charge of issuing the sound device permit.

Parks
Parks Department regulations require street performers to apply for the same sound amplification permit from the local police precinct, if the performance in question can be heard outside the immediate area.

In addition, the Parks Department requires performers to obtain a $25 Special Events permit, at least 21 to 30 days in advance, if either of these conditions apply:

 the performance is expected to draw a large crowd (over 20 people) 
• the performer wants to set up in a particular location

A single Special Events permit can cover 3 dates in different locations, or up to a full month (every day) in a specific location. Permits are granted subject to availability and if the Parks Department deems the location to be appropriate for the performance. In general, performers are also expected to comply with Parks Department rules and regulations, which can be found on the web site:  http://www.nyc.govparks.org/rules/section-2-08.

To obtain the Special Events permit, you have to fill out a one-page application and submit it in person, by mail, or on the Internet. The application is available as a link on the Parks Department’s web site: https://nyceventpermits.nyc.gov/Parks/. The office address is: Borough Permit Office, New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, 24 West 61st Street (between Broadway & Columbus Circle), 5th Floor, New York, NY 10023. Hours: 10am-5pm Mon-Fri (other times for appointment).

If your request for a Special Events permit is denied, you can appeal the decision to the Parks Department’s legal office. Normally, these problems are resolved through negotiation.

In the spring of 2011, the Parks Department put up “Quiet Zone” signs around Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. They also began cracking down on street musicians who had been performing there for years, issuing them huge fines. City newspapers and blogs called attention to the crisis. Supporters started online petitions to protest the new policies. At the start of 2012, street performers were issued summonses for accepting donations without a vendor’s permit near monuments in Washington Square Park — which was a clear violation of their First Amendment rights. High-profile attorneys took on one of these cases. As a result of the public outcry and litigation, the worst of this harassment has ended. But this kind of harassment often comes in waves, with longer periods when performers are left alone. For more details, see these articles:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/02/opinion/02thu4.html?_r=1

http://awalkintheparknyc.blogspot.com/2011/05/musician-crackdown-at-central-parks.html

http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/parks/20110701/14/3555

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/street-artists-performing-fear-big-fines-washington-square-park-article-1.999502

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12. OUR VIEWS

In the previous sections of this guide, we aimed to make you aware of the existing regulations governing public space performances, especially as these apply to the subways. Now we want to share with you how we feel the rules could be improved.

* ALLOW AMPLIFIED MUSIC ON SUBWAY PLATFORMS. The authorities argue that amplified music on the platforms produces “excessive noise”, which they say interferes with transit operations and reduces public safety. But another argument, which we agree with, is that unamplified instruments such as drums and horns can be just as loud as amplified guitars and vocals. According to this view, the amp ban should be lifted and the NYCT’s volume limit could be uniformly enforced with the use of a decibel meter.

* ALLOW THE SALE OF CD RECORDINGS IN THE SUBWAY SYSTEM. We support the argument advanced in Carew-Reid v. MTA that sales of CD recordings are an extension of the performers’ creative expression. Aside from this, a commercial licensing system can be set up for performers to sell their own recordings. Such a permitting scheme was discussed at the end of the Carew-Reidcase, but there was no follow-up. It is not too late to explore such an arrangement.

* MAKE THE SOUND AMPLIFICATION PERMIT AFFORDABLE FOR STREET PERFORMERS. The fee (see the section entitled PERFORMING ON THE STREETS AND IN THE PARKS) is more than some performers earn in one day. If a sound amplification permit is required, we feel that it has to be affordable so that it does not prevent some performances from occurring in the first place. It is also worth noting that, in the appeal to the Turley v. New York City Police dept. case, the jury felt the previous $29 fee was excessive. In his decision, the judge jimself admitted that if the jury had been asked, it probably would have objected to the $45 fee.

* MAKE THE SPECIAL EVENTS PERMIT READILY AVAILABLE. The Parks Department requirement to give at least 21 days’ advance notice should be reviewed to ensure that it does not result in a “chilling effect” and eliminate spontaneity—a hallmark of street performing since it began centuries ago.

13. ETIQUETTE

Most street performers develop a sense of community with each other. Theo Eastwind has written a Code of Etiquette that describes these informal agreements and understandings for his fellow performers.  Click here for Theo’s Code of Etiquette.

14. STREET PERFORMING ACROSS THE UNITED STATES

In City Lore’s annual People’s City Report Card, Steve Zeitlin provides updates on policies related to street performance in New York.  Click here to read Steve’s most recent report.

Stephen Baird, the “dean” of street performing in America, tracks relevant court cases across the United States.  Click here to read Stephen’s latest information and to find out about his membership-based organization, Community Arts Advocates.

15. WHAT DO YOU THINK?

We would like to start an online Resource List for street and subway performers, and for anyone interested in the topic of busker rights and responsibilities. If you have a blog, published a book, made a documentary, wrote a college thesis, filed a lawsuit, or advocated for a relevant issue, please email us with the details! We hope to include as many projects and perspectives as possible (although we reserve the right to choose which resources actually get included).

We also want to hear about your confrontations with police or other authorities. This is the only way we can document the number and kind of incidents that are taking place. We will do our best to help you, or to connect you with people who can help you, to resolve these issues. Or, if you have already resolved them, we can include your experiences and suggestions in the Resource List.

And we hope you will tell us:

  • what you think of the rules governing street and subway performing in New York City
  • what your experiences have been like as public space performers
  • which parts of this guide have been useful to you

You can reach us at steve@citylore.org or at (212) 529-1955. Thanks!

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16. BIBLIOGRAPHY

Baird, Stephen. Street Artists Guild newsletters.

Campbell, Patricia. Passing the Hat: Street Performers in America. New York: Delacorte, 1981.

Harrison-Pepper, Sally. Drawing a Circle in the Square: Street Performing in New York’s Washington Square Park. Mississippi: University of Mississippi Press, 1990.

Tanenbaum, Susie J. Underground Harmonies: Music and Politics in the Subways of New York. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995.

17. SPECIAL THANKS TO:

We want to express our deep appreciation to the following individuals and organizations for their incredibly helpful input and advice regarding this revised version of the guide:

Stephen Baird, Executive Director, Community Arts Advocates

Glen Bolofsky, CEO, parkingticket.com

Gene Russianoff, Legal Director, New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG)

Tim Higginbotham, Schedule Coordinator, Music Under New York (MUNY)

Rita Seaton, Superintendent Operations Support — Grand Central Terminal, Metro-North Railroad

The original Street Perfomers Advocacy Project included: Jorge Cabrera, Candace Kim Edel, Bruce Edwards, Eric John, Marcial Olascuaga, Robert T. Perry, Benjamin Salazar, Naomi Schrag, Ricardo Silva, and Steven Witt

Written by Susie Tanenbaum and edited by Steve Zeitlin

Public programs, audience expansion, and long-range institutional development at City Lore are made possible by a major grant from the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund. Funding for this project has been provided by the Puffin Foundation and the Joyce Mertz Gillmore Foundation.

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