NYC street artist arrests FWD

Tom Boland (
Mon, 29 Dec 1997 19:13:26 -0800 (PST)

FWD from "ARTISTpres" <>

"New York City B.I.D.s vs. Free Speech"

11/18/97 Open Letter to N.Y.C.'s B.I.D.s
(Business Improvement Districts)

During the past four years B.I.D.s have waged a ruthless war
against freedom of speech on New York City streets. Hundreds
of artists were arrested merely for displaying or offering for sale
original paintings and photographs. Thousands of works of fine
art were confiscated and illegally destroyed by police officers
taking their orders directly from the B.I.D.s.

When artists resisted this attack on First Amendment freedom
by suing in Federal court, five of the B.I.D.s (The Fifth Avenue
Association, The Alliance For Downtown New York, The
Madison Avenue B.I.D., The Grand Central Partnership and The
34th Street Partnership) filed an amicus brief hoping to
convince a Federal judge that visual art was "unworthy" of First
Amendment protection. ["The sale of artwork does not involve
communication of thoughts or ideas"-B.I.D. brief filed 2/28/96]
When Giuliani and the B.I.D.s lost the case on October 10th
1996, the mayor appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. ["An
exhibition of paintings is not as communicative as speech,
literature or live entertainment and the artists' constitutional
interest is thus minimal".-Guiliani appeal to the U.S. Supreme
Court, filed 2/25/97] To the relief of the entire U.S. arts
community, the Supreme Court rejected this effort to deny First
Amendment protection to paintings, photographs, prints,
sculptures and the other visual arts.

Now that the 2nd circuit's ruling in Bery et al v. City of New
York and Lederman et al v. City of New York #95-9089 is the
law, ["Visual art is entitled to full First Amendment
protection"] have the Mayor and the B.I.D.s shown any
willingness to comply? If anything, the campaign of illegal
harassment against street artists has gotten worse.

Now the City has announced its intention to circumvent the 2nd
circuit ruling by creating even more restricted streets. Virtually
every street newly restricted to artists and other First
Amendment protected speakers will be within one of the B.I.D.s
involved in the street artist case. The B.I.D.s misrepresent the
facts when they claim that "reducing sidewalk congestion" is
their goal.

This issue is solely about the privatization of public property,
not congestion. Each B.I.D.s stores, theaters, hotels and office
buildings, many of them financed by unwarranted tax write-offs,
are the prime cause of sidewalk congestion. Will the concrete
planters and ad covered "street furniture" soon to  be installed
on every street "reduce congestion"? If all the street artists in the
world were assembled in one place they'd create less congestion
than Trump Tower, The Disney Store, Macys or Rockefeller
Center alone.

It's not just artists or advocates for the homeless that see a
problem with B.I.D.s. According to both City Council reports, a
majority of B.I.D. members would immediately quit their B.I.D.
if they had that freedom of choice.

B.I.D.s are mini-dictatorships run by real estate interests. Your
"Community Courts" and demands for "quality of life" are
nothing more than thinly-disguised racism akin to Southern
chain gangs. ["Unique in the nation, this court handles only
quality-of-life defendants...the Court immediately assigns
offenders to community service in Times Square and the
neighboring residential community. The BID supervises up to
ten offenders daily, supplementing its sanitation crews."-Times
Square B.I.D.'s 1997 annual report]. Hitler also reduced "crime"
and kept streets "clean" while serving the interests of big
business, and, like Rudy Giuliani, was elected by misinforming
the electorate, suppressing the facts and playing to racial
bigotry. In Rudy you've found a demagogue to fulfill your
wildest totalitarian dreams.

Unfortunately there remains an obstacle in your way. We street
artists have no intention of giving up our rights. As necessary,
we will continue to expose and embarrass you before the media
and the public. We will use every technique of non-violent civil
disobedience to highlight your misdeeds. Be certain we will
challenge any new restrictions you are writing into the vending
law both in court and on the streets.

The sidewalks in front of your exclusive properties are the
perfect canvas on which to paint your portrait for the world to
see. Fifth Avenue, Times Square, Broadway and Madison
Avenue can become a forum from which to fight for artists'
rights. We will do this not just to protect our interests, but to
support freedom of expression throughout the world.

 The money you "donate" to the City's art museums, parks and
cultural institutions as a public relations investment will not
hide the crimes you commit against artists and the public. We
will make you famous, not as art patrons, but as enemies of art.

.Is there a way to avoid further conflict? Comply with the 2nd
circuit and U.S. Supreme Court rulings. Stop misusing the
police to violate the U.S. and N.Y. State Constitutions. Tolerate
every person's right to use public property for First Amendment
protected expression. If not, be prepared to experience

Robert Lederman, President of A.R.T.I.S.T.  (718) 369-2111
e-mail: or visit our web site:
Fifth Avenue Assoc. (212) 736-7900; 5th Ave. B.I.D.
265-1310;Times Square B.I.D. 768-1560; Madison Ave. B.I.D.
861-2055; Alliance for Downtown N.Y. 566-6700; Grand
Central Partnership 818-1777; N.Y.C. Corporation Counsel
(attorneys representing the City) 788-0303; Mayor Giuliani's
press office 788-2958; Peddler Task Force  760-8305 ; Wayne
Cross and Brett Goodman (attorneys for the artist/plaintiffs
259-8000. [see: N. Y. Times Metro section 11/12/97 "More
Curbs Sought on NYC Business Improvement Districts"; also
see both City Council Reports on the B.I.D.s] ."Culture is as
important to New York City as steel is to the city of
Pittsburgh," -Rudy Giuliani.