Thursday, May 6, 2010

Parks Commissioner Benepe

Two stories about Parks Commissioner Benepe and the arts have crossed my table in the last couple of weeks.

The first is about Benepe's move to limit the number of artist vendors in the parks:

The proposed regulations would cap the number of vendors of “materials or objects with expressive content, such as newspapers, books, or writings, or visual art such as paintings, prints, photography, or sculpture,” in congested areas of specific parks. Vendors would be limited to designated spots apportioned on a first-come-first-served basis. The rules specify the dimensions of a seller’s table and the table’s proximity to public property like benches, transit stops and monuments.
Robert Lederman, a longtime and oft-quoted street artist, vendor and the founder of A.R.T.I.S.T., an advocacy group with roughly 2,000 members, has won many lawsuits against the city on behalf of art vendors. Mr. Lederman said that he did not believe art stands were overrunning the parks, but instead blamed a glut of illegal vendors. He was also critical of corporate events and scheduled activities like the greenmarket in Union Square.
“The congestion is not being caused by ‘expressive material vendors,’ a term that I hate,” Mr. Lederman said. “The parks department has allowed hundreds of people to illegally vend in the parks without using the vending rules to police them, so why would you invent strange new laws when you could use those laws to get rid of the illegal vendors?”
That's one story. The other comes from WNYC's Sound Check, which hosted a discussion between Benepe and Arline Bronzaft, chair and host of the Noise Committee of the Mayor's Council on the Environment. One of the issues brought up is the street performers and musicians who can sometimes create noise, or the city-sponsored concerts.

Both revolve around the role of public spaces, and the role of artists in those public spaces. When we perform in public, are we an intrusion on the quiet and peace of those who go to the park to relax? Or are we an enriching cultural experience?

There's a balance to be kept to on both sides -- I don't doubt Benepe's assertion that the primary use of parks is those people who go there to do nothing, and have peace and quiet, but I also agree with the host, who says that Prospect Park's life comes from all of the pickup games that go on there (including games of Circle Rules Football, Sundays at 2PM).

The real point, which is why I wrote this post, is that artists should be conscious of these debates that are going on about public space usage, because it effects us -- not just those who want to busk or hold public performances in Washington Square Park, but it's the place where artists cross paths in the public discussion with the non-artist community.

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