City: Traffic-Blocking Art Installations OK, Park Artist-Vendors Not OK

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Yesterday, the Voice reported on several developments in the ongoing park artist controversy: namely, that the Department of Parks and Recreation doesn't seem to have a problem with street creatives in public spaces as long as they're picked by the City.

This is confusing, of course, because one of the City's main arguments against unregulated park artist-vendors is that they mess up an area's aesthetic and foster congestion. So, we wanted to know: How can the Department make this claim while simultaneously greenlighting, say, an above-ground living room around the Columbus Circle monument?

Well, we got an answer from the City's legal team.

City attorney Gabriel Taussig, NYC Law Department's Administrative Law Division chief, tells us: "The comparison between art vending and an art installation is truly 'apples to oranges.' The regulation of art vending on public streets or in parks is in no way based on an assessment of the art being sold. It is based solely on content-neutral time, place, and manner considerations. In other words, the activity being regulated is vending, and in regulating vending, the government seeks to balance the interests and rights of both vendors and the public."

So there you have it?

According to the City, art vending regulation doesn't have to do with the art itself -- rather, it's a question of selling art.

However, it remains to be seen whether judges in the three cases related to this issue will agree with the Law Department's logic or side with the artists' Constitutional claims.

Remember: The artists say not only that their right to speech is being violated (First Amendment,) but also that they not getting equal treatment under the law (14th Amendment).

Check back to the Voice for updates.

Follow Victoria Bekiempis @vicbekiempis.


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