Need Examples to Fight Ban on NYC Parks Performers
May 1, 2013 1:58 AM   Subscribe

On May 8th NYC will start enforcing rules that will effectively ban performers from Washington Square park and most areas of the other parks. If I get a minute or three to speak at a hearing about this (first is 5/1/2013) I'd like to enumerate the films and TV shows that have NYC Park performers, and also performers who got their start busking in NYC. What should be on the list?
posted by Sophont to Law & Government (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for fighting this odious change.

Blue Man Group would be a good example, since they're now an institution that brings tourist $$ to the city.

There are few big-name musicians who got their start in NYC and didn't naturally spend some time busking. Most efficient might be to google for history surrounding the places where lots of local people got their start, like New York Songwriters Circle/The Bitter End, Nuyorican Poets Cafe, Knitting Factory, PostCrypt Cafe, etc.

If you can get a list of the acts who've been approved in the MTA's audition process to get an official permit for the in-subway spots, you should find some recognizable names from earlier years.

Connect with these folks if you haven't already.
posted by kalapierson at 2:25 AM on May 1, 2013

For tv and movies, the IMDb database has everything that films in Washington Square and other NYC parks.

On behalf of my daughter (blonde lead singer) who performs there regularly, thank you for taking up this cause.
posted by kinetic at 3:14 AM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Can you please mention the guy who plays piano in WSP? He is so talented and the music is really beautiful- it literally stops you in your tracks.
posted by bquarters at 4:17 AM on May 1, 2013

Thanks for taking this up. I don't have anything specific to add about people who have gotten famous, except to note that the Gorilla Repretory Theatre performing free Shakespeare in the parks would also be banned under this, and they have performed in Washington Square Park, Riverside, etc. They are often the only way people without the money to buy tickets to indoor theaters can see Shakespeare. So, cultural highpoint!
posted by corb at 5:25 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Agreed--losing the ability to hear Collin Huggins playing on a nice day in the park would be very sad.
posted by kathryn at 5:26 AM on May 1, 2013

There are also numerous comedians who got their start in Washington Square Park, including Dave Chappelle and Eddie Murphy.
posted by carmicha at 6:14 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Another argument: there is brand value and image identity with salience for NYC's tourism industry associated with seeing buskers at WSP and elsewhere. It is a quintessential, iconic NYC experience that, in a small but significant way, distinguishes the Big Apple from its competitors. It's part of the "if I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere" ethos of coming to the City in hopes of becoming a professional performing artist.
posted by carmicha at 6:17 AM on May 1, 2013

Joshua Bell
posted by citygirl at 6:30 AM on May 1, 2013

Another argument: there is brand value and image identity with salience for NYC's tourism industry associated with seeing buskers at WSP and elsewhere.

Indeed, there are numerous money-making tours in NYC dedicated solely to exploring locations of tv shows and films.

It would be plain silly to take tourists to these places and have the parks be devoid of entertainers.
posted by kinetic at 6:45 AM on May 1, 2013

I may suggest that, in addition to listing the artists that have started or succeeded this way, you also contextualize the loss of character (and as mentioned above, business revenue) that will come from this loss as well. Because as much as I agree with your approach, it does somewhat presume that the folks making these rules already *care* about intangibles like hearing great music while strolling through a park, and most of them probably do not.

Which is to say, I wish saying "but this great artist started in that park!" were persuasive, but I fear some of these folks would just say, "So?" and it makes sense to be ready for that with some additional approaches focusing on money, diversity, safety benefits (tourists are much easier for cops to protect when they're all huddled around a couple of kids breakdancing), and other mundane concerns so that you can be as effective as possible.

And, as a New Yorker, thanks for taking the time. Your work for all of us is appreicated!
posted by anildash at 6:55 AM on May 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

Street Art and Buskers Advocates is a website with many helpful resources, such as legal court case citations, and The History and Cultural Impact of Street Performing in America including New York.

“First I must explain how our quartet used to do its hustling so as to attract an audience. We began by walking down Rampart Street between Perdido and Gravier. The lead singer and tenor walked together in front followed by the baritone and the bass. Singing at random we wandered through the streets until someone called to us to sing a few songs. Afterwards we would pass our hats and at the end of the night we would divvy up.”
Louis Armstrong, Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans

The above example is from a "street performer" in New Orleans, not New York, but maybe this will help you in validating the history of street performers dating back to the first recorded instances of laws affecting buskers were in ancient Rome in 462 BC
posted by JujuB at 7:05 AM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

There are also numerous comedians who got their start in Washington Square Park, including Dave Chappelle and Eddie Murphy.

I caught Charlie Barnett at Washington Square Park many times back in the 80s. He was a big deal at the time and would draw a crowd like no one else.
posted by cazoo at 7:10 AM on May 1, 2013

Natalia Paruz - a New York City-based musical saw and novelty instruments player and busker

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN was a busker of sorts. He composed songs and poetry about the political situation of his era and performed them in public. He would also sell printed copies of his work. His father discouraged busking by convincing him that the stigmas some people attach to busking were not worth it. This experience helped Benjamin Franklin form his belief in free speech and is documented in his journals.

The Noise beneath the Apple is web site devoted to New York city buskers. It looks like they are also involved in opposing the proposed laws and have a petition started over on
posted by JujuB at 7:31 AM on May 1, 2013

Tootsie has a mime in it. Dustin Hoffman pushes him over.
posted by bq at 8:36 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Musician Ellis Hooks played Washington Square Park in the mid-to-late 80s. (He had cornrows back then.) He's included in this description of Washington Square Park c. 1985 and this one, which also includes Charlie Barnett (cited by cazoo above).
posted by editorgrrl at 11:30 AM on May 1, 2013

Tic and Tac were in Jay-Z's "99 Problems" video. Tac is very eloquent, has he addressed CB2 on this?

I could come, but it looks like this will be 5th on the agenda, do you know what time they'll get to it?
posted by nicwolff at 12:25 PM on May 1, 2013

Philippe Petit? (But I doubt he would let a law stop him.)
posted by Violet Hour at 2:18 PM on May 1, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you all for your input. Since there were only a couple of films mentioned here I changed my plan of what to say. Based on the Borough Parks Commissioner William T. Castro's comments at the meeting, and the lack of time, I did not speak. I did catch him as he was leaving before the end, and my encounter just re-enforced my belief that "speaking truth to power" is useless since power doesn't give a damn, as they, well, have the power.
Tomorrow I'll post notes about the meeting with links to the video I shot to close out this question.
posted by Sophont at 8:07 PM on May 1, 2013

Best answer: Don't forget Sally Harrison Pepper, Drawing a circle in the square.
posted by Mngo at 8:52 PM on May 1, 2013

Response by poster: To wrap up this askme, I can point you to this write up of the meeting. An analysis of the parks department FAQ and actual written regulations makes the point that currently there is no reasonable way for a performer to "have his hat out" without risking a large fine.
posted by Sophont at 10:23 PM on May 30, 2013

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