Busking at 30: Sounds and Stories from the Underground

30 years after the first case to explicitly recognize New Yorkers’ First Amendment right to artistic expression in the subway, BuskNY and City Lore are pleased to announce Busking at 30: Sounds and Stories from the Underground, an evening that celebrates and advocates for the enduring art form that has long given voice to the city’s wealth of musical traditions and genres.

The program will feature a history of busking in New York City through vignettes and songs from historical performers of the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, as well as a headline performance by one of the subway’s biggest stars, Morgan O’Kane, banjo virtuoso and activist. Other performers include Busker Ball producer Theo Eastwind; classical guitarist Lloyd Carew-Reid, whose advocacy group Subway Troubadours Against Repression led the MTA to formally address performers’ rights in its post-1989 rules; and Roger Manning, the guitarist whose historic 1985 legal challenge opened the subway to artistic performance.

Busking at 30 is the first in a series of events leading up to a summer busking festival in celebration of the August anniversary of the People v Manning case, which was the first step in the legalization of subway performance that culminated in 1987.

With the recent rise in street performer arrests and harassment, Busking at 30 aims to highlight the importance of this underground culture and what it brings to the diverse and vibrant culture of New York City.

7pm start time. Doors at 6:30pm.

Suggested donation of $5 at the door. Advance tickets unavailable.

What We Bring

City Lore Presents:

What We Bring: New Immigrant Gifts

Spotlighting the Contributions of Artists from
New York City’s Immigrant Communities


What We Bring: New Immigrant Gifts adds to the national dialogue on immigration, bringing in to focus the cultural contributions of new immigrants.  With this exhibition, we mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Hart-Celler Immigration and Nationality Act, implemented in 1968, which inaugurated a new era of immigration from Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Caribbean. What We Bring celebrates the rich layers of creativity, tradition, and increased cultural diversity that the law set in motion, especially in New York City, where 6-in-10 residents are first generation or the children of immigrants.

The thirty-one artists, some widely known, some known primarily in their own communities, span twenty-five countries with artistic disciplines that range from music to cooking, poetry to dance, visual arts to theater. They have brought special skills, knowledge and/or perspectives that inform their contributions to the American patchwork.  Their arts are gifts with no strings attached.  We invite you to consider their stories, and think about your own and your family’s gifts to the country you call home.

Immigration and Nationalities Act of 1965

U.S. Immigration Milestones

Our beautiful America was built by a nation of strangers. From a hundred different places or more they poured forth…The land flourished because it was fed from so many sources– because it was nourished by so many cultures and traditions and peoples.

~Lyndon Johnson on signing the Hart-Celler Act on October 3, 1965

When new immigrants from many world cultures create a vital cultural life in this country, this becomes their home. America is home to the world’s peoples. When new immigrants arrive in this country, they are coming home.

~Chike Nwoffia, entrepreneur and Nigerian immigrant

Here’s to the manicurist who had to leave her family to come here, painting the nails, scrubbing the feet of strangers. Here’s to the janitors who don’t understand English yet work hard despite it all. Here’s to the fast food workers who work hard to see their family smile. Here’s to the laundry man at the Marriott who told me with the sparkle in his eyes how he was an engineer in Peru. Here’s to the bus driver, the Turkish Sufi who almost danced when I quoted Rumi… Here’s to the taxi drivers from Nigeria, Ghana, Egypt and India who gossip amongst themselves… Here is to their children, to the children who despite it all become artists, writers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, activists and rebels.

~ Ijeoma Umebinyuo, Questions for Ada, 2015

Movement of the body and mind is vital for human survival and prosperity. We are essentially water. Water must flow. Water that does not move stagnates. Migration is to humans as flow is to water.

~Kewulay Kamara,  finah poet and Sierra Leonean immigrant



Click on the artist’s image or name to get their full story!

n’Ketiah Brakohiapa; Ghana: clothing designer, teacher 

Object: Sankofa fabric print resist

Seh owere fi na wo san ko fa aa yen kyiri.

[Forgetfulness is not an abomination if you return to reclaim the good teachings you learned in life.]





Cindy Campbell; Jamaica: the “Muse of Hip Hop”

Object: a poster of Bob Marley

It’s like someone waved a wand over the neighborhood.








Carolina Calvache; Colombia: musician

Object: song lyric and poem

Hay días en que somos tan móviles, tan móviles Como las leves briznas al viento y al azar
Tal vez bajo otro cielo la gloria nos sonría
La vida es clara, undívaga y abierta como un mar. -Porfi rio Barba Jacob, “Canción de la vida profunda” (Spanish)

[There are days when we’re so variable, so variable, / As the light blade of grass to the wind and chance. / Maybe glory smiles at us under other skies, / For life is clear, billowy, and open like the ocean.]



Staceyann Chin; Jamaica: slam poet, theater artist

Object: expired Jamaican passport

I came to America to find some kind of freedom









Sidiki Conde; Guinea: dancer, choreographer, musician, founder of Tokounou Dance Company

Object: krin log drum

Kana miri fela morya ma ka dantambi, i ke wali yiraka morlu la, ini sewa ila dunuya teroh.

[“Don’t think too much about your disability.  Think about what you can do for society and be grateful for this life.”]





Leonardo Ivan Dominguez; Dominican Republic: folklorist, musician, teacher, founder and director of Conjunto Folklórico de Alianza Dominicana

Object: balsie drum

Estaba tocando bongos con los viejos. El grupo se llamaba Los Soneros de Borojol. Ese era el barrio donde crecí en Santo Domingo, cerca del puerto. (Spanish)

[I used to play bongos with the elders. The group was called The Soneros from Borojol. That was the neighborhood where I grew up in Santo Domingo, close to the port.]




Dovit Davidov; Uzbekistan: musician and instrument maker 

Object: tar lute

Искусство требует жертв.

[Art requires sacrifice.]






 Romy Dortan Page; Philippines: master chef and proprietor of the Purple Yam restaurant

Object: taro leaves

Masiramon ang pagkaing Pilipino!

(Tagalog) [Filipino food is delicious!]







Hoang Lieng; Vietnam: cook, proprietor of V-Nam Cafe

Object: sticky rice in banana leaf

Thứ đồ ăn duy nhất tôi có thể mang theo là bánh tét cuốn trong vỏ chuối vì lá chuối sẽ bảo quản đồ ăn trong vòng một tuần. (Vietnamese)

[The only thing I could bring with me when I left on the boat was sticky rice wrapped in a banana leaf, because the banana leaf will preserve it for a week.]





Kewulay Kamara; Sierra Leone: finah poet and storyteller

Object: numu blacksmith’s bellows

Sigi tina koe min ban, tama le woe bana.

[What sitting will not solve, travel will resolve.]






 Yahaya Kamate; Côte d’Ivoire: dancer, choreographer, teacher

Object: n’goni musical bow

Kabini Karamôhgôh deniou ya karan damnana, gnandunugnanratèguè gnana.

[When I went to teach children in schools, it changed my life.]





Samir LanGus; Morocco: Gnawa musician

Object: sintir lute

.إذا ﺣﺎوﻟت اﻹﻧﺳﻼخ ﻋن ﺟذورك، ﯾوﻣﺎً ﻣﺎ ﺳﺗﺑﺣث ﻋﻧﮭم


If you run away from your roots, one day you will come looking for them -Fatima Tabaamrant, Moroccan Amazighi Singer





Luis Fernando Lechon; Ecuador/Kichwa: artist and musician

Object: family photograph and antique bone flute

Ñukanchik kawsayta, shina sumakta muyumuni, jatirishunchik tucuilla runakunapak tarpunchik allinta purini, chaymanta Mari kawsanguichu.

[We live our lives in the way of happiness. We cultivate community together, and we walk in the way of the good. That is our way to live.]





Christine Yvette Lewis; Trinidad: activist, actor, pan player

Object: Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights

I love the kids I take care of — money can’t begin to pay for that.









Marcus Malchijah; Guyana: milliner, entrepreneur

Object: needle and hat

It was very serendipitous, the way I fell into millinery after my son passed away. I kind of took off running with it, and it always worked in miraculous ways for me. Many times I refl ected that it was a gift given to me by my son.






Rekha Malhotra; India/UK: DJ, producer, educator, creator of Basement Bhangra

Object: Record Gur Nal Ishq Mitha by Bally Sagoo featuring Malkit Singh

Experiencing the sounds on that recording was a life-changing and a career-ignoring moment.









Alma Mićić; Serbia: jazz singer and pianist

Object: Shure SM58 microphone

Џе3 ме је спасио пуно пута.

[Jazz saved my life many times.]






Héctor Morales; Peru: Afro-Peruvian Percussionist and jazz drummer

Object: the cajón

Mi relación con la música afro-peruana y criolla empezó desde el día en que nací. Esta es la músi-ca que mi padre tocaba para nosotros en casa.


[My relationship with Afro-Peruvian and Creole music started since the day I was born. This was the music my father loved and the music he played for us at home.]




Sahar Muradi; Afghanistan: poet, educator

Object: Divan-e-Hafiz, Hafiz’s collection of poetry and prognostication

ا حافظ شیراز

 ترا به شاخ نباتت قسمم میدهم

 اگر راست بگویی برایم باره ین سوال...


[Oh, Hafi z from Shiraz / I promise you to your branch of sugarcane [your sweetheart] / If you tell me the truth about this question…] -Invocation recited before a reading of Hafiz:




Vong Pak; Korea: drummer, actor, teacher, founder of VP Korean Drum

Object : bronze bells

나는 브레이크 댄서들과 함께 거리공연을 하곤 했다. 난 뉴욕 언더그라운드 아트 씬이 어떻게 돌아가는지 알고 싶었다. 거리 공연 경험이 없었다면 오늘의 내가 존재 할 수 없었다.

[I used to perform with break dancers because I needed to know what was going on in this world. Without the busking, Vong Pak would not exist.]





Moustafa Rahman; Egypt: mosaic artist, cook restauranteur

Object: The symbols of Alexandria that adorn his restaurant, Mombar

لا أنتظر تقدير الآخرين لأعمالى الفنية، فنى يمتعنى شخصيا و هذا يكفينى


[My art is what I do to satisfy myself, not to get praise.]






Kesler Pierre; Haiti: visual artist, designer, and percussionist

Object: stained glass lamp

Kenbe fèm pa moli!

[Stay strong, don’t get weak!]






Aziz Peerzada; Pakistan: musician, ghazal singer

Object: harmonium

.با ادب با مراد بے ادب بے مراد


[If you respect everyone, people will respect you; and if you disrespect anyone, people will disrespect you.]

-A saying of Master Inayyat Hussain Shah





Paula Sanchez; Mexico: Spanish teacher, son jarocho dancer, musician, cultural organizer

Object: calavera Día de Los Muertos skull

Los retos de recrear una tradición cultural en
un contexto distinto al original se convierten en oportunidades de re-pensar dichas tradiciones y adaptarlas a nuevas necesidades. (Spanish)

[The challenges of re-creating a tradition in a new context offers opportunities to re-think these traditions and adapt them to new needs.]




Pritha Singh; Guyana: playwright, director, and co-founder of the Rajkumari Cultural Center

Object: Mala prayer beads

[SAT – CHIT – ANANDA ~ Truth, Consciousness, Bliss]







 Luz Soliz; Honduras/Gariduna: dancer, choreographer, teacher, activist, and founder of Garifuna Heritage Center for the Arts and Culture

Object: hana and hanaóudua – mortar and pestle

Ágüdahabei bagücha lou babágariduní, bafáreihaní, labu lou barufudahaní sun lácharagun. Buidu me gién lun pantaba lou kátabulá.

[Preserve your culture by practicing, sharing, and teaching all the essential aspects of it. Especially, be proud of who you are.]




Malini Srinivasan; India: classical Bharatanatyam dancer, choreographer

Object: ankle bells

சில நேரங்களில் மிகவும் அழகான பரிசு கூட கடந்த காலத்தில் இருந்து வருத்தம் எண்ணங்கள் வருகிறது; சில நேரங்களில் அது விடுதலையை சாத்தியமாக்குகிறது.


[Sometimes the most beautiful gift also comes with sad thoughts from the past; and sometimes it brings with it the possibility of liberation.]



María Terrero; Dominican Republic: singer, cultural organizer, founder of KumbaCarey

Object: pandero frame drum

Para nosotros, los panderos representan legado, resistencia y preservación.


[For us, the pander drums represent legacy, resistance, and preservation.]




Pedro Raposo; Dominican Republic: dancer, teacher, co-founder of KumbaCarey

Object: futuro trumpet

Los futuros representan resistencia, supervivencia, posibilidades, polirrítmicas y mágica. 


[Futuro trumpets represent resistance, survival, polyrhythmic possibilities and magic.]



Lu Yu; Taiwan: actor, teaching artist, airline steward

Object: Monkey King crown

[America is a country of immigrants, and it’s what makes this country beautiful. That is what I believe.]







Martha Nora ZarateMexico: Dancer, choreographer, teacher, founder of Mazarte Dance Company

Object: Jalisco dance dress

Amo a mi México, mi cultura y tradiciones; orgullo-sa estoy de poder compartirlas con la juventud. Sigamos bailando con el corazón. (Spanish)

[I love my Mexico, my culture and traditions; I’m proud to be able to share them with the youth. Let’s continue dancing from the heart.]









Credits Photographer: Tom Pich; Curated by: Tom Van Buren & Steve Zeitlin; Research Director: Elena Martínez; Additional photography: Kewulay Kamara; Design: Fred Elman and Ellen Leerburger; Publicity: Carol Klenfner; Graphics and Social Media: Eva Pedriglieri; Lead consultant: Suzy Seriff; Interviews: Marlena Baraf; Interns: Husniya Khujamyorova, Alison Silverstein, and Sarah Singh. Cosponsored by City Lore, Center for Traditional Music and Dance, the Brooklyn Arts Council, and the CATCH consortium. Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation with additional support from the New York State Council on the Arts and the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs. Special thanks: Ella Baff, Documentary Arts, Alan Govenar, Warren Lehrer, Maurine Loughran, Council Member Rosie Mendez, Chris Mulé, Sahar Muradi, Peter Rushefsky, Holly Sidford, Judith Sloan, Naomi Sturm, and Emily Waters.

People’s City Report Card

Most New Yorkers recognize—and even the tourists know—that the heart of New York City is found not only at the Met or Lincoln Center, but in the hustle and bustle, the cacophonous mix of ethnic groups, social classes, and the arts. Increasingly, we are aware of the pressures that are forcing new immigrants, artists, and working people out of the city and making it more difficult for them to express their traditions, culture, and art. With passionate interest in what’s distinctive and local about New York, we have issued, for the seventh year, the People’s City Report Card 2016. Our first Report Card for the de Blasio administration shows that he is, in large part, seeking to fulfill his campaign promise to support New York’s grassroots cultures. Become a member and help us keep the grassroots growing!



Subway Therapy

Last year we highlighted artist Matthew Chavez, aka “Levee,” who encouraged MTA commuters to post sticky note messages on the 14th Street/6th Avenue transfer tunnel. The project was initiated on November 9, 2016 as a way for New Yorkers to express emotions of all kinds following the presidential election. The sticky note project grew out of his earlier seven-month initiative, “Subway Therapy”—a table and two chairs installed in the same tunnel, where people stopped to discuss their hopes and fears.  In 2017, Levee continued to offer table and chair sessions twice a month in the 14th Street transfer tunnel. As the anniversary of the election approached, he increased to weekly open office hours, and brought back the stickies. On November 9, 2017, he posted the prompt: How is Your Life Different Than a Year Ago? “You can follow the project on Instagram at @subwaytherapy.


Muslim Ban Protest @ JFK

On Saturday, January 28th, thousands gathered at Terminal Four of JFK International Airport to protest Trump’s Executive Order 13769, issued the previous day. Known informally as “the Muslim ban,” the order blocked entry of nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries into the United States for ninety days, and suspended the resettlement of refugees for four months. Travelers and immigrants, including green card holders, were detained at U.S. Customs, while others attempting to fly into the country were blocked from boarding US-bound airplanes. The protest at JFK began as a vigil at 6pm and swelled to a massive rally by the end of the night. Protesters and allies commuting through the JFK campus held signs, honked car horns, and shouted “no hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here.”  Many of the protestors were lawyers, and were partly responsible for the over fifty legal challenges brought in the first four days of the ban.  The protest will be remembered as a defining, spontaneous urgent response by the people of NYC.


Cultural Plan

CreateNYC is the city’s first-ever comprehensive cultural plan. Published by the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) in 2017, the plan outlines strategies toward uplifting arts and culture across the city, and creating a more inclusive, equitable, and resilient cultural ecosystem for all New Yorkers. Based on input gathered over the course of six months from hundreds of thousands of artists, organizations, and residents from across the five boroughs, the plan identifies eight major and inter-related issue areas, including equity and inclusion; social and economic impact; affordability; neighborhood character; arts, culture, and science education; arts and culture in public space; citywide coordination; and health of the cultural sector. City Lore is proud to have significantly contributed to CreateNYC.  The report honors City Lore’s Place Matters program in the chapter on protecting and leveraging neighborhood character, referencing community asset mapping initiatives, such as the Census of Places that Matter.

A coalition of artists and activists has also generated The People’s Cultural Plan, a policy document that seeks to address and redress the blindspots in the city’s official report. The People’s Cultural Plan advocates for “truly equitable inclusion (not tokenization) of artists and cultural workers of color, equitable and adequate wages, employee benefits, job protection, and upward mobility for all artists and cultural workers.” The thoughtful, thorough, and concrete 17-page document focuses on and puts forth policy suggestions related to equitable housing, land, and development policies; labor equity; and public funding equity. It proposes a target of $840M for DCLA’s annual budget, with three tiers of budgetary priorities until that number is reached wherein increases go first to the communities, artists, and organizations with the greatest need.


Though slightly smaller than in past years, 2017’s J’Ouvert, the traditional Trinidadian “break of day” pre-Carnival celebration, took place this Labor Day weekend with all of the usual, fantastically exuberant art and play on the streets of Brooklyn. Despite a new sunrise start time, heavily increased security presence, and a no-alcohol policy—all the result of past years’ negative press that marred J’Ouvert’s reputation by incorrectly correlating criminal activity with the event —the beloved ritual was replete with revelers “wining” and singing along with fourteen masquerade bands, eight steelbands, and six rhythm bands. Brooklyn College Musicologist and Folklorist, Dr. Ray Allen, tells us that J’Ouvert has a long history of hostile response from authorities and mainstream media, both in the Caribbean and New York City. Many are concerned that the new rules dishonor and censor the tradition – asking J’Ouvert to start at daylight rather than at 4;00 am, one reveler said, “is like asking Christians to celebrate Midnight Mass at dawn.”  Still, Brooklyn J’Ouvert is going strong. As Allen notes, “especially in these current troubling times when standing up to xenophobia, racism, and class inequity has taken on new levels of immediacy for all, J’Ouvert, with its spirit of resistance, has survived for over a hundred-fifty years, and there is no reason to suspect it won’t continue to do so.”


In the spring, Barbès—the beloved Park Slope bar and performance space—announced that it was in trouble. For the last fifteen years, Barbès has presented strong original music on a nightly basis – regardless of genre, trend, “or even common sense.” Although it has functioned as a neighborhood hub and watering hole, and seven-night-a-week musical project incubator, Barbès could no longer deny that doing business in a re-branded Brooklyn has become a tremendous challenge. Increased rents and cost of goods and services led to a dwindling profit margin, and although the landlord was sympathetic, the bar owed $70,000, and the city placed a lien on the building. Citing a hard deadline of July 1st, Barbés turned to the community for help, saying, “Barbès has no assets – our only assets are the musicians who have chosen Barbès as a creative home, and the Barbès audience that comes and supports them.” Thankfully, the audience and community rallied like hell. A benefit event and Indiegogo campaign raised almost $65,000,The owners have promised that they have every intention of surviving for however long they can – or at the very least until the end of their current lease, five years from now. A happy, albeit temporary, end to what is by now and all-too-common story.


Street Vendors and New York’s Grassroots Economy

Sean Basinski, Director of the Street Vendor Project, reports that it has been a very hard year for our city’s street vendors. Between our Muslim vendors facing increased hatred in the streets, and our Latino vendors who are often undocumented, many vendors are justifiably afraid. What is worse is that, unlike in L.A. (https://www.saveur.com/la-street-vendors-gain-legal-rights), the NYC government has yet to do anything to protect vendors in response. Much of the criminalization of vendors is based on the lack of permits. There is a serious proposal (Intro 1303) on the table at City Council to increase the number of permits, but the Mayor is still not on board, so it has not come to a vote. de Blasio deserves an F on that.  In addition, the crackdown on immigration and the Muslim Ban threatens all New Yorkers where we live.  It endangers many street vendors, doormen, restaurant workers and working people who continue to give New York City character and affordability and threatens their chance to be a part of this great city.  Above all, New York is a city of immigrants.  Let’s keep it that way.

In Memoriam

This year the Bronx lost an important icon of the Puerto Rican community who helped to change the cultural landscape of the entire borough. Calixto “Caly” Rivera (d. July 30th, 2017) founded JCR Percussion close to 50 years ago.  While he made a variety of percussive instruments for Latin music: bongo, timbales, bomba barriles, panderetas for plena, and congas, he was renowned for his handcrafted cowbells.  Though he was courted by larger instrument companies to join their ranks and divulge his secrets, Rivera maintained his place in the Bronx, which became a meeting place for the best percussionists the world over—from Bronx-born Fania All-Star conguero Eddie Montalvo and Latin jazz bandleader Bobby Sanabria, to conguero Giovanni Hidalgo from Puerto Rico, to drummers from all over the world. Caly’s humble workshop, just up the hill from Yankee Stadium, was a reason the Bronx has been known as “el Condado de la Salsa” (The Salsa Borough).



Sanctuary City

On Thursday, November 10th, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and the office of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti issued statements in response to a Trump campaign promise to withhold federal funds from “sanctuary cities,” cities that limit their cooperation with U.S. immigration authorities seeking to hold illegal immigrants in detention. On November 10th, de Blasio stated, “We are not going to sacrifice a half million people who live among us, who are part of our community.” While it is too soon to know whether the incoming administration will follow through on Trump’s campaign pledge to deport millions of illegal immigrants, we hope that New York City will choose to embody the spirit of sanctuary for all of its residents.

Union Square Post It Notes


Throughout our recent history, New Yorkers use words on walls in public spaces to express a variety of views and emotions—grief, protest, anger.  There were the 9/11 memorials such as the “Missing” posters and the tiles on a wall in the Union Square subway where family members write personal messages to lost ones.  Today’s current displays include the “Mis Casa No Es Si Casa: Illumination Against Gentrification,” a resistance art project that protests neighborhood gentrification in Bushwick by creating slogans out of strings of Christmas lights; and the construction wall turned Guerilla Gallery on 116th St. between 2nd and 3rd Avenues run by the Harlem Art Collective, where East Harlem residents use words and images to voice concerns over immigrant rights and the tragedy of the 43 disappeared students from the Rural Teachers College in Mexico. Now to give voice to the despair, anger, sadness, and for some, the excitement, of the recent outcome of the presidential election, Union Station subway station has been turned into a forum. Several tiled walls have been covered with post-it notes with messages and quotes ranging from hope, support, and unity to mobilization and outrage. This project was begun by artist Matthew Chavez, who goes by the moniker Levee, as a way to vent emotion, which grew out of his earlier project, “Subway Therapy”—a way to de-stress through conversation in NYC’s subways.  The post-it notes began to go up the day after the election when he posted “Express Yourself.”  At Union Station 10,000 messages have been amassed. The post-it notes—quick memos in office settings–provide an ephemeral, cathartic release in a new context, and we are pleased that the New York Historical Society will be collecting and archiving the notes.

Jim Power’s Mosaic Trail and the Alamo Reinstalled at Astor Place

In 2016, with the Village Alliance an City Lore taking a lead role, friends and allies rallied hard to help artist Jim Power restore his magnificent light pole mosaics, New York City’s longest-lasting guerilla art.  Jim teamed up with Julie Powell to refurbish the poles which were installed, now as totems, in the reopened Astor Place in November. Happily, seven of Jim’s poles will be permanent, vibrant features of the Astor Place landscape. On November 1st, Bernard (Tony) Rosenthal’s beloved sculpture, Alamo, aka “The Cube,” was also reinstated at Astor Place after a two-year absence.

Bronx Music Heritage Center’s New Home

The Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation (WHEDco) is ready to begin building the Bronx Commons, an arts-based, mixed-use development project. The development, located in the Melrose Commons neighborhood of the South Bronx, on the west side of Elton Avenue, between East 162nd and East 163rd Streets, will house the permanent home of the Bronx Music Heritage Center, including a theater, gallery, and classroom space.  Their goal is to set aside some units for elderly musicians. The ceremonial groundbreaking is scheduled for early 2017.

Plan for the Bronx Common, future home of the BMHC.

Plan for the Bronx Common, future home of the BMHC.

Designation of NYC’s Historic LGBT Sites

In March, the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project nominated Julius’ Bar to the National Register of Historic Places.  Julius’, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in April, is often referred to as the oldest gay bar in New York City, and is perhaps best known as the site of the April 21, 1966 “sip-in,” a significant event staged to counter the illegality of serving a drink to a gay person in New York. In addition, this June, President Barak Obama declared the Stonewall Inn the country’s first LGBT National Monument. 

Cultural Plan

Last year, Mayor de Blasio signed legislation requiring New York City to generate CreateNYC, the first-ever comprehensive cultural plan for the city. In 2016, the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs launched a variety of opportunities for the public to participate in the planning process and offer feedback for overall issues to be addressed in the Cultural Plan. See http://createnyc.org/show-up/ We hope that CreateNYC reflects a nuanced, inclusive roadmap for the future of New York’s cultural sector when the Plan is delivered to the Mayor’s Office in July 2017. City Lore is seeking to assure that groups we call Community Anchors – religious institutions, small businesses and social clubs – that serve as hubs for community-based arts but operate largely outside of the philanthropic world are included in the plan.


A New Garden

In 1989, two weeks after the Central Park attack, Donald Trump spent a reported $85,000 on advertisements in the city’s newspapers, a headline of which read, “Bring Back The Death Penalty. Bring Back Our Police!” In the message, Trump wrote, “I … hate these muggers and murderers. They should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes. They must serve as examples. . .  On Monday, November 7th, 2016, the day before the presidential election, we spoke with the father of one of the Central Park Five, who served 5 years in prison before they were exonerated, about his motivation to open a community garden in his native East Harlem. He did not talk about the case, or the boys’ lost childhoods, or the miscarriage of justice.  He spoke only about how he, his family, and community had to carve out safe space, a sanctuary, in their own city after being targeted and harassed.

Gardens vs. Low Cost Housing

Time and again, New York City has proposed low cost or mixed use housing on the sites of beloved community gardens. This year, the Elizabeth Street Garden between Spring and Prince streets is battling the de Blasio administration, asking them to select an alternate site for mixed use housing and not to destroy or drastically diminish the beautiful garden which is one of the few open spaces of parkland in Lower Manhattan.  More than 5,000 letters have been written in support.

Street Vendors

Sean Basinski, Director of the Street Vendor Project, says it’s too soon to tell how street vendors fared in 2016. On October 13th the Street Vendor Modernization Act was introduced by City Council members. The Act would double the number of food cart and truck vendor permits over the next seven years. The city capped at the number of permits at 3,000 in the early 1980s, but so many more have sought them, and many are on 20-year waiting lists. On October 27th, the City Council Consumer Affairs Committee held an eight-hour hearing on the issue, wherein the mayor effectively said that he did not know if the city would be increasing the number of street vending permits. According to Basinski, the city council is ready to make this change for increased equity. However, businessmen like Donald Trump do not support the small vendors, no less the idea of more of them. Basinski says that the change could and should still happen this calendar year, while the iron is still hot.


Trump Tower Barricades

The barricades, trucks, security guards, and bomb-sniffing dogs clogging 5th Avenue between 56th and 57th Streets, the high-traffic area the area around Trump Tower, are costing the city nearly $475,000 per day. Members of the press are quarantined in corrals across the street, and two lanes of 5th Avenue traffic have been closed. On Monday, December 5th, Mayor de Blasio asked the federal government to cover the total $3.5 million burden that the city has incurred for protecting Trump’s midtown apartment since election night. Taxpayers and city council members alike have signed circulated a petition to charge the US government the estimated $1 million-per-day fee of guarding the president-elect and his family in Trump Tower during the upcoming four-year term. Trump’s decision to maintain his family’s primary residence in New York threatens to undermine city’s security, circulation, and economy. 

Federation of Black Cowboys
Federation of Black Cowboys, September 2015

Federation of Black Cowboys, September 2015

Last summer, the Federation of Black Cowboys, a group of African Americans who have found a way to ride horses and keep Black cowboy traditions alive in New York City, put in a bid to renew their license for Cedar Lane Stables, the 20-acre city-owned parcel that they and their mounts have maintained and called home since 1998. Historically, the federation was the only organization to respond to the RFP for the site, and have always won the bid by default. This time they were one of three bidders. In February they were informed that they hadn’t made the cut. The experience of the Federation of Black Cowboys, as well as other sites City Lore has advocated for, makes it clear that most allocations go to large organizations and high bidders. In addition, the sites are often subject to blind bidding, in which current users have to bid to keep their space without knowing the bids of their competitors. Assignments for the use of city-owned property should be preceded by a survey to assess the value of the organization and the space to the community.

Terraza 7

Terraza 7 is a bar and music venue located at 40-19 Gleane Street, near the Elmhurst/Jackson Heights border. Opened on June 20, 2002, Terraza 7 hosts live music five nights a week, and features bands playing a range of sounds, from Afro-Peruvian, Afro-Colombian, and modern Latin jazz to bolero, salsa, timba, and jarocho. Part of Terraza 7’s mission is to make people in the community feel more involved, and to incorporate the traditions of their homeland — “cultural memories,” as founder and owner Freddy Castiblanco calls them — into their new city.  Yet when Terraza 7’s lease is up at the end of 2016, the rent will increase sixfold from $4,500 to $27,000 per month, and Castiblanco will be forced to find a new home for the musicians and neighbors who have become his family.  Castiblanco is currently searching for alternative venues, but finding the right space at a fair price is proving difficult.



Jim Powers Mosaic Poles

When the City made plans to undertake a complete renovation of the public spaces at Astor Place including new lighting fixtures, all of us assumed that the Vietnam Vet and Guerilla artist Jim Powers’ mosaic-covered light poles were doomed. Enter William Kelly and the Village Alliance. Working with the Department of Transportation, City Lore, Clayton Patterson, Bob Holmanand Jim himselfplans were made and are now underway to take down the poles, store and repair them, and put them up again as art objects rather than light poles. It’s a tribute the Lower East Side and its vibrant tradition of guerrilla art.

Artist Housing

In his first term, Mayor de Blasio has promised to build 40,000 units of housing and preserve 120,000. Within that, he has set the goal of creating 1,500 units designed for artists. This, of course, is a drop in the bucket, given that New York is home to what Adam Forman, Research Director of the Center of an Urban Future, estimates to be 300,000 “creatives” living in the city. De Blasio’s goal is on track, partly due to a building boom in New York which enables him to pressure developers to create these units. P.S. 109, created by Arts Space in East Harlem, is a model, creating 89 units in which artists can both live and work. In January WHEDco is breaking ground on a new low cost housing complex that will include units for elderly musicians and will house the Bronx Music Heritage Center, which City Lore’s Elena Martínez is helping to create. Of course, many “artists” as opposed to “creatives” (which includes high tech designers in start ups and advertisers) are struggling to live in the city and considering other places. But de Blasio’s plans are a step in the right direction.

Neighborhood Plazas

We are pleased to report that the de Blasio administration is working to further New York City’s Plaza Program. New York City now has 70 plazas across the five boroughs. Bloomberg’s plan was that all the plazas would run on a public/private partnership basis with the city providing the space but the local businesses providing the maintenance and programming. This, of course, works far better for the Manhattan sites with upscale businesses than in the outer boroughs. Partly through the work of the Plaza Program, led by Laura Hansen, the City Council has allotted 5.4 million dollars over three years to help program and maintain the plazas in low and moderate income neighborhoods.

Places that Matter: B & H

On the afternoon of March 26th, a gas explosion on the southwest side of the block toppled three buildings, claimed two lives, and destroyed four eateries including B&H Dairy, the beloved East Village deli. Numerous neighborhood businesses recovered soon after, but the beloved lunch counter was shuttered for five consecutive months, with its gas turned off, its counter empty, and its extended family of staff and clientele struggling to understand why B&H was the exception. Thanks to persistent advocacy campaigns from the neighbor Andy Reynolds, Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, Save NYC, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, EV Grieve, and NY1, the city finally gave B&H the green light to reopen on August 14th, and they haven’t stopped serving and celebrating since.

Places that Matter: Stonewall

In June, the Stonewall Inn was unanimously deemed an individual New York City landmark for its association with LGBTQ history in the city and the nation. 1960s New York City had one of the largest gay populations in the country. However, few establishments catered to gay and lesbian clientele. Police regularly raided gay bars and clubs to enforce “morality” laws that prohibited people from cross-dressing, same-sex couples from dancing, and businesses from selling alcohol to the gay community. These raids were the physical manifestations of tolerated, city-sanctioned harassment. On June 28, 1969, police raided Stonewall Inn. The skirmish escalated into three days of rioting, demonstrations, and street battles. Known as the Stonewall Uprising, the Stonewall Riots, or simply Stonewall, the events created a media sensation, garnering international attention. They inspired LGBTQ communities around the world to rise up in protest of discrimination, spawning the modern gay rights movement and the international fight for equality.

Community Anchors

For too long, philanthropy for arts and culture has paid scant attention to many of the grassroots sites which serve as generative incubators and as sites for vibrant cultural activity in local communities. City Lore is pleased to have received a Ford Foundation grant of $105,000 grant for a Place Matters initiative to provide financial support to these exemplary cultural organizations, many of which are not 501(c)3s. In the Bronx these include Casita Rincon Criollo, a long-standing Puerto Rican social club built on a vacant lot; and El Maestro Boxing Gym and Cultural Center; in Manhattan: Marjorie Eliot’s Parlor Entertainment in Sugar Hill, which has hosted free concerts in Marjorie’s livingroom for over 20 years; in Queens: the Hindu Temple Society of North America in Flushing and La Terazza 7 Latin music club; in Brooklyn: Sesame Flyers Trinidadian Social Club and Mas Camp and the Haitian Radio Station El Soleil; in Staten Island: the largely Liberian Christ Assembly Lutheran Church/African Immigrant Ministry and the Sri Lankan Vihara Buddhist Temple. To be able to offer this kind of support to these groups is a dream come true for City Lore, and we believe that the report and documentation we are creating for the project will serve as model that will generate increased support for grassroots sites in NYC and beyond.

Arts in Education

City Lore is committed to arts education for every NYC public school students, and our own education program brings folk artists and artist residencies into more than 20 schools. We are delighted that the Mayor and his Education Commissioner, Carmen Farina, have put added several million dollars into arts in education. These new dollars are a welcome infusion of funding and support for arts education in city schools, but we would like to see a return to the Project Arts Program put in place during the Giuliani administration which distributed funds for the arts to all city schools based on the number of students in the school.


Personal Losses

Sadly, we are missing several luminaries of New York City’s green space movement. In late July, Jose “Chema” Soto, founding father of the South Bronx’s Casita Rincon Criollo, passed away at age 70. Casitas are small houses surrounded by gardens lots to create the look and feel of the Puerto Rican countryside. Rincón Criollo, also known as La Casita de Chema, is one of the city’s oldest and largest. Environmental activist and gardener Adam Purple also passed away in September at the age of 84. Adam, whose real name was David Wilkie, is often considered one of the original pioneers of the Lower East Side community garden movement. Adam built and fought a losing battle to save the spectacular 15,000 square foot Garden of Eden between Forsyth and Eldridge Streets, which was visible to NASA from outer space.

Street Performers

This year City Lore celebrated the 30th anniversary of subway musician Roger Manning’s historic legal challenge which helped establish first amendment rights for musicians to play on the subway in 1985. These performerswho “instill a homesickness for freedom in the lives of ordinary men”continue to be harassed as they exercise their constitutional right to perform on subway platforms and mezzanines. For example, at the close of 2014, Andrew Kalleen, 30, was ejected from the G subway platform at the Lorimer StreetMetropolitan Avenue stop after calmly explaining to the officer that he was doing nothing illegal. A video of the incident captured by straphangers waiting for a train shows a police officer approaching Kalleen and telling him he needed a permit to play therewhich the musician disputes. Eventually, Kalleen is led off in handcuffs. The video went viral on the .

The Trump Effect

Overall, the de Blasio administration is shifting resources to low income and middle class New Yorkers, smaller organizations, and groups in all five boroughs. Yet the forces of unbridled capitalism are much stronger than the city government. With the new building boom, every block of Manhattan, and much of the city, is a construction site. Immigrant artists, and those working in non-profits are paying skyrocketing rents to live in a place where they can still get to work each day. Small businesses are pushed out on a daily basis. As the working class is pushed away from Manhattan, the subways remain in disrepair, particularly on weekends. The wealthy are separated from working people geographically and the opportunities for ethnic groups and communities to interact is diminished. Although New York City is becoming a high tech center where “creatives” live comfortably, artists and working class New Yorkers are increasingly struggling and looking for other places to call home.



Legacy of the Bloomberg Years

From a populist perspective the Bloomberg years and the Bloomberg legacy have left the city monetarily rich yet culturally impoverished. Their People’s City Report Card is dreadful. Yes, city is graced with bike paths which are a wonderful amenity, but are far less of a help to outer borough residents who work in the city. Working class New Yorkers are increasingly pushed further out, and in one of the world’s richest metropolises, the subway is an embarrassment. It can’t even afford to install the light boxes which tell when the trains are coming on even half of the lines. Manhattan shops complain that they have trouble finding workers because the rents push them so far away that their commutes are too long. As the Lower East Side activist Clayton Patterson put it, “Change is inevitable, and, no, we don’t want the drugs and crime back. But there has to be a happy medium between middle- and low-income people being allowed to live, work and own small businesses, and the takeover by people with full pockets.”

Street Vendors

Eric Garner who was slain by Staten Island cops earlier this year was a street vendor, arrested because he was selling loose cigarettes for $.50 without charging tax. As Steve Basinsky, Director of the Street Vendors Project notes, this is no cause for arrest, let alone killing a married father of six children. DeBlasio may be good on stop and frisk but his commissioner, Bratton, is continuing the “broken windows” policing which argues that harassing street vendors and street performers is going to stop robberies and murders. Whereas a year and a half ago the Street Vendors Project (part of the Center for Urban Justice) succeeded in lowering the maximum fine on street vendors from $1,000 to $500, the ticketing of street vendors continues unabated. Keep in mind that street vendors are still your best chance for finding a reasonably-priced meal in New York City.

Taylor Swift

This year NYC & Co., New York’s official tourism agency, appointed Taylor Swift — with her song “Welcome to New York” — as New York City’s global cultural ambassador. Taylor Swift? As activist Clayton Patterson puts it, “as we export the jobs do we need to import the talent?” Even if she lives in Brooklyn, she is hardly a New York City Icon. Madonna or Lady Gaga and dozens of others would have been far better choices.

Place Matters

Sadly, many beloved NYC places closed their doors in 2014, including 110 year old De Roberti’s Pasticceria and quirky Kim’s Video and Music on 1st Avenue, Bereket on Houston Street, and myriad north Brooklyn music venues, including Glasslands, 254 Kent and Death by Audio. The Kentile Floors sign was removed from the Brooklyn skyline, and the stunning Rizzoli Bookstore and the stalwart Subway Inn both relocated despite equally protracted and well-supported struggles to remain in situ.

The Magic Table

December 2014 marked the end of the Magic Table’s long-standing tenure at the Hotel Edison’s Café Edison. For the past 72 years, the Magic Table has served as a gathering place for coin snatchers, shadowgraphers, levitation aficionados, and generations of shell-game wizards. Located in the Hotel Edison’s Café Edison, “it’s a depot, a stopping-off point for magicians from all over the world,” said longtime host of the Magic Table, the late Mike Bornstein, who was known on the vaudeville circuit as Kolma the Magical Mandarin. “We don’t really have to be anywhere, so we come, we sit down, break bread with fellow magicians, discuss magic, talk about where you’ve come from or where you’re going, and maybe see a new trick or two.” In the fall, local magicians and their supporters began conjuring all of their powers to ensure that Cafe Edison, and the beloved Magic Table, were allowed to remain in the Edison Hotel. In early 2014, the cafe’s current manager, Conrad Strohl, received notice that the cafe would not be given a new lease for 2015. Sadly, Strohl and the Magicians lost their campaign, and the Café Edison closed its doors on Sunday, December 21. Strohl continues to search for nearby locations, but has not yet been able to find anything affordable. However, he promises that when he finds a new venue, the Magic Table will always be reserved. In the meantime, the Magic Table will be temporarily meeting at the Evergreen Restaurant with the hopes of resuming regular meetings at the Strohl family’s new eatery at some point in the future.



This year the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) proposed to “de-calendar” 94 individual properties and 2 historic districts across the five borough en masse. The vote, if executed as planned, would have precluded public testimony and presentation to the Commissioners of the merits of each property, and it would have constituted an unprecedented move on the part of LPC. Thankfully, in response to a public outcry, the vote was cancelled.

Street Performers

2014 has been an exceptionally difficult year for street and subway artists. Upon taking office, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton announced an increased police presence in the subway. Due to an on-going failure by the NYPD and MTA to clarify that Music Under New York banners are not a legal requirement, this led to several widely publicized arrests of freelance performers, whose performances were permissible under MTA rules. Meanwhile, after long-standing difficulties obtaining sound and performance permits for the parks and plazas they prefer, “Lite Feet” dancers and breakdancers continued to perform on subway trains as a second choice. In 2014, they were the target of a new effort to bring class A misdemeanor charges for reckless endangerment over their performances. Finally, parks performers and artists report continuing discontent with the city’s choice to restrict their work to a limited number of designated vending spots. The good news is that these issues inspired street performer Matthew Christian, a classically-trained violinist and contra-dance fiddler, to found BuskNY. Their effort to get the City Council onboard to support street performers, and their tireless advocacy promises to improve conditions for street performers on subways, parks and streets.

Artist Housing

In 2010, the Center for an Urban Future published the report, Time to be Creative. The report argued that New York’s creative edge arguably is more at risk today than ever before. It is undeniable that many artists have given up on New York, reluctantly, for cheaper locales such as Philadelphia, New Orleans and Berlin. The report suggested that the economic downturn in the city posed possibilities – but the downturn is now over. Research Director David Giles notes that the City’s median income is declining while the median rents are increasing, pushing out artists and new immigrants, and increasingly threatening the creativity and tradition that is the city’s life blood. The bright side is the city is aware of the problem, and has taken small steps to alleviate it. The city commissioned Arts Space (out of Minneapolis) to convert a school in East Harlem, PS 109 into 89 living spaces for arts – thousands applied. The city is supporting renovations for the Clemente Soto Velez Educational and Cultural Center which offers subsidized studio space for visual artists, and has fast tracked a new housing development in the Bronx, developed by WHEDco which will have 15% of its units designated for elderly musicians. The city’s new SPARC initiative offers studio space to artists in city owned libraries and senior centers in exchange for teaching classes.


Arts in the Schools

The DeBlasio appointments of Carmen Farina to head the NYC Department of Education and Tom Finkelperl the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs are laudable. We are delighted that the Mayor’s office set aside 27 million for arts education initiatives through the Department of Education. These funds are being used to hire art and music teachers, re-establish borough arts coordinators, and offer the arts more expansively to special needs students in all five boroughs.

Knishes and Egg Creams

All is not lost – you can still get a knish at Yonah Schimmel’s, a pastrami Sandwich at Katz’s, a slice of cheesecake at Junior’s, a hot dog at Nathan’s in Coney Island, an Egg cream at Ray’s Candy Store and old fashion treats at Economy Candy and the new Handsome Dan’s Snocone and Candy Stand on 1st Ave. Thank God for small favors.




Neighborhood Plazas.

The Bloomberg administration has helped create and foster public plazas, closing off streets for pedestrian traffic, giving New Yorkers a place to sit and enjoy the city free of charge and beautifying public space.  Most visible are the plazas in Times Square, Herald Square, Madison Square and the Meatpacking District, but the city is building the same public amenities across the five boroughs. The city’s goal is that every NYC resident should live no more than 10 minutes from public space, and new plazas are now functioning in Diversity Plaza, Jackson Heights; New Lots, Brooklyn; Washington Heights; and at The Hub in the Bronx.  Particularly commendable is the new program, Neighborhood Plaza Partnership, led by Laura Hansen and based at THE HORT.  The plazas’ operating funds do not come from the city, so they depend on public/private partnerships. They run on sweat equity, volunteer efforts and contributions from local businesses. The Manhattan plazas like Times Square have far more opportunities for raising funds, and the Neighborhood Plaza Partnership is seeking to find creative ways to support these open spaces in low income neighborhoods.

Bicycle City.

During the Bloomberg years, New York City has become a biking town, with bike paths running through many parts of Manhattan. The new, fairly ubiquitous Citibikes contribute to a liveable, healthy and attractive city. They are commendable because they enable those who live in the outer boroughs, who don’t have the time to bike in, to take public transportation and still take advantage of the bikes.


Community Gardens.

Overall, Aziz Dehkah, the first Executive Director of the NYC Community Gardens Coalition, is optimistic. The number of gardens and gardeners in New York is increasing.  More than 400 gardeners attended the Mayoral Forum on April 28th at Cooper Union, where Pete Seeger sang and the candidates spoke.  Ironically, the upturn in the city’s economy poses challenges. As developers started building again, gardens in Coney Island and NYU are threatened. Aziz and the coalition are hoping that Mayor DeBlasio will eventually make the gardens permanent.

Places That Matter.

The whitewashing of 5Pointz, the great outdoor graffiti museum in Long IslandCity whose glorious colors elevated riders on the 7 train for many years, is a travesty for NYC’s folk culture. It was done under the cover of darkness, similar to the way the House Under the Roller Coaster in Coney Island was destroyed by the Giuliani administration a decade ago.

Equally troubling is the Howard Hughes Corporation’s plans for redevelopment of the South Street Seaport area. It calls for the destruction of the NewMarketBuilding of the old Fulton Fish Market. Additionally, they plan to move the historic TinBuilding to make room for a 50-story hotel and condo tower. Needless to say, the loss of the historic NewMarketBuilding and addition of a glass skyscraper will ruin the integrity of the historic district, and visitors will not be able to experience a link to the city’s maritime past. An opportunity to revitalize the NewMarketBuilding will be lost.

In 2013, Place Matters participated in the successful campaign to landmark the Lower East Side’s BialystokerCenter and Home for the Aged. Although the structure no longer serves its original purpose, the building represents nearly a century of Jewish American history on the Lower East Side. Furthermore, as the Friends of the Bialystoker Home have noted, the home is one of only two extant structures on the north side of East Broadway that remain from the neighborhood’s earlier days.  The Jewish American past has already suffered significant diminution in the Lower East Side. Protecting and preserving the Bialystoker Home prevents further erosion of this important historical narrative.

Last year the New York Public Library published a $300 million renovation plan for the Stephen A. Schwartzman building, guarded by the two lions Patience and Fortitude. The renovation included the demolition of Rose Main Reading Room’s historic seven-level book stacks. Massive public outcry has compelled the NYPL to revise its plans to include preservation of portions of the stacks, but designs will not be released until next year.

Recovery From Hurricane Sandy.

Last year, City Lore gathered a list of cultural organizations and sites impacted by Hurricane Sandy. Among them was the Coney Island History Project, completely devastated by the storm. FEMA told them that to qualify for assistance, the organization would have to apply and be denied a bank loan. This seemed like a daunting amount of futile paper work and red tape, so CIHP declined to apply. Happily their exhibition center is up and running again thanks generous donations from long-time supporters and its co-founder, Carol Albert. We visited CIHP in first week of this October, serendipitously on the same day as the reopening of the reconstructed Steeplechase Pier.

Street Vendors.

Everyone on a budget in New York knows that, in many parts of the city, street vendors are the only place to get a reasonably priced meal. The Street Vendor Project reports that, in September, the City Council passed legislation reducing the fines for street vendors who set up in the wrong spots from $1,000 to $500.  Overall, however, the enforcement imposed on street vendors during the Bloomberg years has been extremely severe.  In addition, street vendors are also concerned with the privatization of public space in Business Improvement Districts and plazas. They worry that the local businesses, now more organized, will work to oust vendors from neighborhood centers to avoid competition.


Street Performers.

Street performers are increasingly challenged in New York City. City Lore has received more calls this year from performers who have been issued summonses than ever before.  Performers often report that the police are unfamiliar with free speech laws and MTA regulations and are often unwilling to read the rules when presented with them.  Part of the problem is the privatization of public space. Although the new plazas, Business Improvement Districts and park conservancies serve important functions, they often make street performance difficult. By setting themselves up as private rather than public property, they often hire their own security forces and no longer abide by the rules of free speech because performers are now on “private property.”

Artist Housing.

In 2010, the Center for an Urban Future published the report, Time to be Creative.  The report argued that New York’s creative edge arguably is more at risk today than ever before. It is undeniable that many artists have given up on New York, reluctantly, for cheaper locales such as Philadelphia and Berlin. The report suggested that the economic downturn in the city posed possibilities—but the downturn is now over.  Research Director David Giles notes that the City’s median income is declining while the median rents are increasing, pushing out artists and new immigrants, and increasingly threatening the creativity and tradition that is the city’s life blood.

Arts in the Schools.

For many low- and middle-income New Yorkers, access to the arts begins in public schools. Since 2007, when the Mayor Bloomberg eliminated Project Arts, the dedicated funding line for arts instruction, art in the schools has been cut. This, along with increased emphasis on math and language arts instruction to the exclusion of other subjects and more budget cuts, has decimated arts education in New York City’s public schools. Arts Connection Director, Steve Tennen, is hopeful that Mayor DeBlasio’s commitment to reducing reliance on testing and emphasizing public schools rather than charter schools, and a commitment to Pre-K and after school programs will help bring the arts back to the schools.

Loss of Knishes.

As you may have heard, a small fire broke out at the end of September at the Long Island factory, Gabila’s, that produces most of the city’s fried knishes, and created THE GREAT NEW YORK CITY KNISH SHORTAGE! The New York Times dubbed it a FAMINE.  Delis like Katz’s which purchase Gabila’s knishes are suffering, while others, like Yonah Schimmel’s which bake their own knishes, are benefiting.  If your tummy can’t stand the pain, you can find a recipe for a Gabila’s style knish online—and cook your own!





Free Expression – Occupy NY. New Yorkers should be proud that the now worldwide Occupy movement began here in New York. The City remains the financial capital of the world and change needs to start right here. The grassroots creativity of young people collectively reinvented protests for a new age, with New York at its epicenter. Never offering simple demands that could be easily dismissed, they have riveted media attention for months. May they continue to be just as ingenious as they map a future for the movement.

Street Vendors. A conversation with Mathew Shapiro, attorney for the Street Vendors project, revealed that a few years ago the city increased fines for vendors operating in the wrong places from $250 to $1,000, a crippling penalty. The good news is that a new bill has been introduced at the City Council with 32 cosponsors reducing the fines to a maximum of $250 for certain violations. A public hearing is taking place in the next few months. The Street Vendors project set up an online donation system where people from around the world could order food from the vendors around Zuccotti Park to feed the protestors, partly to help the vendors recoup the business they lost at the park.

Community Gardens. “Urban agriculture is on everyone’s lips,” Karen Washington, President of the New York Community Gardens Coalition, told us. Last year the Spitzer Agreement between the City and the gardens expired. The coalition has worked tirelessly and successfully to get the City to issue a set of what she calls “rules and regulations” to preserve and protect the gardens. “But,” Karen notes, these rules are only as good as the current administration. The Coalition is now in conversation with City Council, the Parks Department, and the Mayor for ways to making community gardens permanent within the law.”

Grassroots Arts in New York. This year, close to 250 NYC cultural centers including a wide variety of small and midsize, diverse arts groups (including City Lore) received funding from The Bloomberg Family Foundation, the private family foundation established by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2006, awarding approximately $32 million in grants to preserve NYC’s role as a world center for the arts.

Drumming Circles and Ethnic Celebrations in the Parks. Last year, as a result of a brawl in the park unrelated to the drumming, the wonderful weekly Haitian drumming circle on Sundays in Prospect Park was shut down by the police. We are pleased that the Haitian circle, Gran Bwa, and the drumming circle in Drummer’s Grove in the Southeast area of the park are going strong.


Arts in the Schools. For many low- and middle-income New Yorkers, access to the arts begins in the schools. Since 2007, when the Mayor Bloomberg eliminated Project Arts, the dedicated funding line for arts instruction, and replaced it with the ArtsCount Initiative, there has been a 36% decrease in funding for partnerships with cultural institutions as well as a decrease in funds for school arts specialists, according to a report by The Center for Arts Education. This, along with increased emphasis on math and language arts instruction to the exclusion of other subjects and more budget cuts, has decimated arts education in New York City’s public schools.

Street Performers. City Lore, together with the Street Performers Advocacy Project’s Co-Founder, author and activist Susie Tanenbaum, continue to monitor the situation in the parks and streets. They also have established a strong line of communication with Chief Ray Diaz at the NYPD Transit Bureau. Nonetheless, the situation for New York’s street performers is deteriorating. A large part of the problem is the movement to privatize public space. By declaring business improvement districts and other means, parks and public spaces are able to hire their own security forces and no longer seem bound to abide by the rules of free speech because performers are now on “private property.” As performer Theo Eastwind reports, “I have noticed new tactics by the police that I have never seen before, most alarming they use the words ‘private property’ a lot! There are less and less of us. Many street performers have been leaving town in fact. Back to Bulgaria, back to New Orleans, back to Boston.” Even more distressing is a recent law put into effect to our knowledge without any public hearings stating that performers cannot collect donations within 50 feet of a landmark or monument. They face a $250 fine for the first offense, but the fine can rise to $1,000 in subsequent summonses.


Tolerance – Zuccotti Park. For three months, Mayor Bloomberg showed remarkable tolerance of the protests, touting New York’s historical commitment to peaceful protests and free expression. Zuccotti Park is a privately owned public space, and the building’s corporate owners and the City showed considerable restraint for the tent city that occupied it. Nonetheless, of great concern are the continuous use of force on protesters by the NYPD and the “media blackout” where the city reportedly detained journalists and closed off airspace over Zuccotti Park to prevent news helicopters from documenting and reporting as the park was being cleared. When asked what was happening at Zuccotti since the eviction, a protestor quipped, “The police force is occupying the park. They have not, however, come up with any coherent demands.”

Open Markets. According to foodways consultant Makalé Faber Cullen, there’s lots of good news: Hot Bread Kitchen, the “social venture” non-profit organization that has been helping NYC’s immigrant and minority low-income women become financially independent bakers and entrepreneurs, has launched an incubator in Harlem. The 2,300 square foot shared-use commercial kitchen supports start-up food entrepreneurs in launching scalable food businesses. In addition, the revival of the Essex Street Market has drawn in new food entrepreneurs who have added to the market’s long standing role as a robust wholesale distribution center for dozens of neighborhood retailers. And, New Amsterdam Market just received a $250k award from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to further develop the market in the new East River Market District. Offsetting these gains is the paltry treatment bordering on harassment at the Forsythe Market, Chinatown’s largest vegetable market, perhaps because it is in a disadvantaged area.

Places that Matter. 2011 was a tense year for Places that Matter. In August, Coney Island Bialys and Bagels announced that they would be closing after ninety-one years of delectable service. But two Muslim gentlemen, Zafaryab Ali and Peerada Shah, both former cab drivers and also former CIBB employees, bought the business in November, vowing to keep it alive and kosher for the next ninety-one years. In September, the City Council voted to overturn Federal-style 135 Bowery’s designation as an NYC landmark, and 35 Cooper Square, the oldest building on the square, was demolished in May. But the Bowery was named to the State Register of Historic Places in late October. Perhaps the City’s most storied thoroughfare, the Bowery has had an enormous impact on New York City’s history and culture. Likewise, St. Marks Bookshop experienced a harrowing summer and fall while negotiating its rent with landlord Cooper Union. But thanks to a 44,128-signature online petition, Cooper Union reduced the rent by $2,500 per month for the next year, and the bookstore celebrated its 34th anniversary on December 1. In other good news, two iconic boardwalk establishments, Gregory and Paul’s hot dog stand and Ruby’s bar and restaurant in Coney Island, much in jeopardy through much of the year, just signed new 8 year leases!




Religious Tolerance and Respect. We applaud Mayor Bloomberg for taking a courageous stand on the Islamic Center at Ground ZeroThis year, the New York City Council also passed a resolution adding Eid Ul-Adha, marking the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, and Eid Ul-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, as official school holidays, along with the Christian and Jewish celebrations.

Open Markets. According to foodways consultant Makale Faber, GrowNYC, a city agency, has done commendable work opening new markets and expanding existing ones. She mentioned that many more of the city’s markets are doing well according to the “protein factor,” which suggests that markets are stable when meat, fish, and cheese are sold in them.


Arts in the Schools. For many low- and middle-income New Yorkers, access to the arts begins in the schools. Reorganization of the Department of Education eliminated Project Arts, and has decimated arts education in the schools.

Drumming Circles and Ethnic Celebrations in the Parks. As a result of a brawl in the park unrelated to the drumming, the wonderful weekly Haitian drumming circle on Sundays in Prospect Park has been shut down indefinitely by the police.


Community Gardens. On October 13, the Dept. of Parks issued new rules for many of the city’s community gardens.  The rules happily suggest that existing Parks’ community gardens will remain so, but also states that their status can be summarily overturned if they are found to be in “default” by the Commissioner. New York City Community Gardens coalition is working to assure that a transparent process is in place to make that determination.

Street Performers. My fellow advocate Susie Tanenbaum and I were pleased that the new Chief of Transit Ray Diaz allowed us to address the transit police commanders, and Captain Carrasco to meet with the NYPD.  The officials lent us their ears, and seem sympathetic to street performers’ rights. However, we are still receiving regular calls from performers who have been thrown out of Union Square and Times Square, partly as a result of private security forces now being hired by the Business Improvement Districts in those areas.

Street Vendors. A conversation with Sean Basinski, director of the Street Vendor Project run by the Urban Justice Center, revealed that a few years ago the city increased fines for vendors operating in the wrong places from $250 to $1,000. A new report released by the NYC Budget Office suggests that there is no evidence that vendors don’t pay their taxes, and the city wastes a log of money chasing and ticketing vendors – including $5.9 million a year from the infamous “Peddler Squad.” On the other hand, the city is now offering permits allowing fresh produce to be sold in a number of additional neighborhoods.

Street Parades. Robert De Vito, who outfits most of the city’s parade floats at Bond Parade Floats in Clifton, New Jersey, said that parades are still thriving in New York, though with fewer floats, as a result of the economy. But as Andy Newman wrote in the Times, “Everyone may love a parade, but . . . the department notified parade organizers throughout the city . . . that starting April 1, their processions must cover 25 percent less distance and may no longer exceed five hours in duration.”

Places that Matter. Coney is such an important release valve for New York City that it deserves special mention. This year, the New York’s State Historic Preservation Office has declared Coney Island’s amusement district eligible for listing in the State and National Registers of Historic Places. In addition, Zamperla’s new Luna Park, on land the City bought back from Thor Equities, was a wonderful addition to Coney this summer. Yet, Zamperla has not renewed the leases for a number of the historic boardwalk establishments including the legendary and beloved Ruby’s Bar.  The bar has been a part of Coney Island for more than 70 years and has been owned by the family of Ruby Jacobs since the 1970s.  Thor also appears to have begun demolition work on Coney Island’s’s historic Henderson Music Hall on Surf Avenue, one of the few remnants of historic Coney.

Ethnic Social Clubs. No news is good news.


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


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


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

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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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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

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.

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.

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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:

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: _______________________

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)







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.

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 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:





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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.


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.


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.


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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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.


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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