NYC Finds Artistic Street Vendors Shockingly Uncooperative

Who would have thought that people who gather at NYC’s public parks to sell their paintings and photography would mind being forced into a designated area?

The new rules, approved some months ago, are meant to keep the artists from causing congestion in four popular city parks. The artists say it is an affront to free speech.

“We’re going to stay inside this park and away from the marked spaces,” said Robert Lederman, an organizer of an advocacy group called Artist. “We’re going to defy the mayor and we’re going to defy the parks department.”

The artists took the city to court over the rules, which, in the case of Union Square, limit the number of artists selling their wares to 18 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but lost when a judge found that the rule was reasonable.

The artists plan to appeal, but in the meantime can be found waving signs and writing passages from the constitution on the sidewalk, says the NYT. We wish them luck.

Vendors Thumb Nose at City Restriction [NYT]


Edit Your Comment

  1. DJ Charlie says:

    Sorry artists, but Free Speech != Right to Sell.

    • PunditGuy says:

      != means “not equal to.” (In before the flood.)

      • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

        Also makes for a really cool looking emote, in my opinion. Less so when in a monospaced font, but, whatever.

        Cannot unsee.

    • Duke_Newcombe-Making children and adults as fat as pigs says:

      Five out of nine folks in black robes in Washington DC recently decided that speech=money. Perhaps they can help here. :(

      • Chaosium says:

        “Five out of nine folks in black robes in Washington DC recently decided that speech=money. Perhaps they can help here. :(“

        Uh, these 5 out of nine only give a damn about people with a LOT of money (hence a lot of “value” to their speech.)

  2. Paintmann says:

    I agree with the city. no different than zoning requirements for land. Free speech and the right to hawk your shit in a public place are not one and the same.

  3. c!tizen says:

    “Artistic Street Vendors”

    Back in my day we just called em’ hookers.

    • PanCake BuTT says:

      Can we bring those back ?!. I’d trade those ‘artist’ in bat of an eye for your suggestion ! Go Netherlands !

      • Kaonashi says:

        If they’re taxed like anyone else who sells a service and regulated with mandatory health checkups and enforced rules to keep people who are positive with a sexually transmitted disease (temporary or lifetime depending on the disease) from selling their wares then I don’t see any objections.

        If it weren’t for the right (read christian [decapitalization on purpose] right) this victimless crime would be legal, regulated, and properly taxed which would be good for the economy not to mention the mental and physical health of a slice of the population.

        • evnmorlo says:

          Lower prices would be bad for pimps, and it would be hard to stock tweens. Can blame lawmakers for listening to the people they represent

  4. Kaonashi says:

    I have to agree with the artists on this one. The whole congestion argument is bull, the city wants a certain image of it’s parks and that doesn’t include street vendors and artists, that has been clear for years. They’ve tried and failed in the past to ban them outright so they’re squeezing them out bit by bit and seeing how much they can get away with. That way if the courts disagree they’ll only lose the last little push.

    • Dutchess says:

      We also have the right to go to the city parks and avoid the barage of garbage turned art people are selling. I personaly go to the park to relax in the park, not to go shopping.

    • zeiman says:

      The city should start fighting congestion by requiring all tourists to walk single file, rather that standing in groups of 20 taking up the whole sidewalk.

    • NeverLetMeDown says:

      If people want to sell art, they’re very welcome to rent some gallery space and go to it. If they want to propose a rental system to the city, they’re welcome to do that too.

  5. iameor says:

    Agreed. Especially if they are causing congestion for walkers, joggers and bikers. If you’re goal id to ‘defy’ the mayor and Parks Department then you’re focusing on the wrong thing. Grow up and sell your stuff in the appropriate area. You don’t see stores setting up their wares in the middle of the street, do you?

    • Drew5764 says:

      Bikers shouldn’t be biking on the sidewalk in the parks. They make streets for that.

      Otherwise, it’s a free speech issue. Start regulating, and then you’ve let the city determine who’s art is ok to sell.

    • alisonann says:

      Nobody bikes or jogs in Union Square. It’s whole charm is its congregation area, it is ripe for markets and protests.

  6. twophrasebark says:

    Let’s make something clear. The Bloomberg administration does not care about congestion in the parks. When there is a corporation that wants something, the city is happy to let them create all the congestion they want. The city rents out Bryant Park in its entirety for Fashion Week and did the same on the High Line for Calvin Klein. The same goes for the Farmer’s Markets, which for example regularly congest the crap out of Union Square park. Why is this different? It’s different because it generates cash for the city. There is nothing wrong with cash, but there is this little annoying thing called the First Amendment which has allowed the sellers to pedal their wares. And that gets in the way of our billionaire businessman mayor’s way of operating NYC, which is to run it like a business.

    I’m not going to get into a debate about the First Amendment on Consumerist. I don’t think people are going to understand the difference between what you think is right and why the First Amendment has stood the test of time in this country. But I just want to point out that this is not an issue about the congestion in the parks. Not in my opinion.

    • Kaonashi says:

      At least he hasn’t had them herded out of the city like Giuliani did with the homeless.

      • Conformist138 says:

        Unrelated, but creepy: On my way through downtown to my night job, I used to see massive groups of homeless people under a particular bridge. It was the most common sleeping area and a sight I was pretty used to. But then they all vanished. And not just like transients tend to do when the weather changes, but really disappeared. Quite literally in just one day that area went from filled with people to completely deserted. I’ve not seen any groups of comparable size since.

        Anyway, quite unrealted to the post, but something that’s been bothering me.

    • cash_da_pibble says:

      I think the city is right in this case.
      In its most basic form, the first amendment- The Right to Free Speech- means that they can DISPLAY their works. That’s fine. I have no issue with creating public galleries.
      The selling of their works, that’s not free speech, that’s Commerce.
      And that can be governed by the city.
      Selling art is not in any way a part of the first amendment- and in many cities, sidewalk sellers need permits to sell their wares legally.

      I think its perfectly fair for the city to regulate these sidewalk sellers, just as people have the right to enjoy their City park without being peddled to.
      Ultimately, it’s the City’s park- and the City can do as they please, whether it is to regulate who visits it for events or to rent it to people.

      • twophrasebark says:

        “The selling of their works, that’s not free speech, that’s Commerce.”

        You’re wrong and that’s why I am not going to debate this on Consumerist. The courts have repeatedly – and I do mean repeatedly – ruled that they have the right to sell their works without a permit. But you’re right that the city has the right to reasonably regulate this as well. There were already regulations on the books that the artists had to adhere to. The city just didn’t like them because they required manpower to regulate (i.e. people checking to see who was following the regs and who wasn’t).

        I don’t think the city will win this fight because the new regulations aren’t that reasonable–they require vendors to get space on a first-come first-serve basis and while they may sound okay from the outside looking in, it’s obviously unfair if you’re a first amendment vendor.

        Okay, looks like I got dragged into the debate but I am going to try and stay away.

        • Sneeje says:

          Perhaps, but let’s remember that free speech is not an unlimited right–it can be limited and commercial speech is very often not protected speech.

    • exconsumer says:

      Well, I understand you, but I’ve never seen the area around Bryant Park as crowded as Union Square, even during Fashion Week. I think some of the contributing factors are that Bryant Park is just a big fenced off lawn in the middle where people don’t pass through. That’s where the big Fashion Week tent is anyway. It’s in the fall, so your sunbathers who would normally be out occupying the lawn are absent. In short, I don’t think they are not blocking a major thoroughfare with their catwalks. I don’t recall the walkway around the park to be crowded very often, and very seldom does anything spill out onto the sidewalk itself.

      Union Square is a different story. There are several paths through the park itself, narrowed by vendors. And the vendors in the main ‘stepped area’ push right to the curb of the street. Sometimes moving through there is a major hassle.

    • Azuaron says:

      “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. [Further, you can stand in publicly owned land and hawk art.]”

      I added that last bit to the first amendment so you wouldn’t be so very wrong about it. Think it’ll take?

      The first amendment means you can SAY whatever you want, but the sale of goods/services does not apply and is highly regulated under all conditions (primarily to PROTECT CONSUMERS; e.g., false advertising is not considered protected free speech). If the regulation of the sale of goods/services was against the first amendment, most laws governing businesses disappear. (Of course, I’m willing to bet these artists aren’t running their businesses like real businesses. I wonder how many could be fined for not collecting sales tax?)

      The argument that artists are getting pushed out purely to let bigger businesses in is a concern and something that the artists have the right to fight over. That being said, just like I have to right to rent out land I own to whomever I want, the government has the right to rent out land THEY own to whomever they want. If the artists (and their supporters) are willing to pay as much as the bigger businesses to be there, I’m sure the city government would be accommodating. If not, that’s their own problem.

      • MMD says:

        But isn’t it public land? The land can not be both public and pay-to-play.

        • Azuaron says:

          Okay, I want you to go down to the “public” elementary school and hang out all day in the playground (on a school day). Then when you get kicked out of there, you can check out the property of “public” utilities companies. Then you should go in the “public” restroom of the opposite gender. Hey! GM’s practically owned by the “public” now, you should wander one of their factories! And isn’t it your tax dollars that pay for the Pentagon and the White House?

          “Public” does not mean “owned by and always accessible to the people (me).” Public means something is owned by, or used by, or controlled by the people THROUGH THEIR ELECTED OFFICIALS. If you don’t like what your elected official is doing with the public land under their control, elect a different official.

      • twophrasebark says:

        You can’t just read the first amendment and then decide the case based on what you think it means. You have to read the gazillion decisions deciding what the first amendment means in a million kazillion ways. Here’s an example. You know those newspaper machines that you can stick a few quarters in and get a paper. The right to place those on the street were fought and argued. They can put them out there because of the first amendment. And the cities have the right to reasonably regulate them. But not get rid of them. You are completely wrong that there can’t be a transaction involved. As I said, the courts have repeatedly – and I do mean repeatedly – ruled that they have the right to sell their works without a permit. I’m not a first amendment lawyer and neither are you. Let the people who know the law duke it out in court. But be advised that the artists have been fighting this for years and they always win. That should give you some insight into how the courts view the issue.

        • Azuaron says:

          First, you have no idea if I’m a first amendment lawyer or not, so saying what I am or what I am not is incredibly presumptuous. At no point did I say that the city had the right to outlaw the artists, merely that the city had the right to regulate the sale of goods/services.

          Second, no one is stopping the artists from selling art, just regulating how/where they do so (in a reasonable fashion).

          Third, you keep contradicting yourself. First you say the city has the right to reasonably regulate the sale of goods, then you protest their reasonable regulations. Make up your mind.

    • SkokieGuy says:

      I’m all for art, but using your example, if the park is to serve the public good, isn’t occasionally renting it out for a large event like Fashion Week a good thing? It generates lots of money for a cash-strapped city and brings thousands to the part and generates international publicity.

      Artists selling individual wares doesn’t not benefit the public is such a large way, and I would guess that the transactions are all for cash, so technically these sales would be illegal, since the artists don’t have a business license, sales tax ID, etc. etc.

      To permit but control their use of a public space does not seem unreasonable.

      • MMD says:

        Isn’t a public space “owned” by the public, though? Couldn’t a citizen representing “the public” sue the city for blocking access to areas of the park for Fashion Week?

        • twophrasebark says:

          Interesting question. I don’t know. There was an interesting case recently where the same administration wanted to take a lot of money from a bunch of private schools to renovate some fields on Randall’s Island and then give them priority access.

          The courts said: No way you can give priority access to them on a public field.

          Quite honestly, the Bloomberg administration has a very hard time understanding the concept of “public” anything.

  7. exconsumer says:

    The city’s not inventing a problem here either. Union Square gets REALLY crowded with just regular people passing by. Many vendors will place their tables or shelves right against the adjacent vendor, creating bottlenecks where there would otherwise be none. When the whole of the main stepped area is covered with people and vendors, pedestrians will start to use the other side of the street just to avoid the crowd. . . so now you’ve got people crossing the street at the crossroads of a few major NY streets (Broadway, Lexington, 14th) unnecessarily; so now traffic doesn’t move as fast as it could.

    And so on, and so forth.

    It’s not that I don’t want them there or don’t want them selling anything. I really dig some of their wares. But the congestion is real and those tables are a major factor.

  8. spazztastic says:

    I’d be a little more supportive if the majority of the vendors I saw weren’t Chinese guys all selling the same stock photographs.

    • MMD says:

      The quality (or lack of quality) of the art is irrelevant. Expression is expression. Free speech doesn’t mean “free speech only if it’s a statement I agree with.”

      • pantheonoutcast says:

        Speech does not equal unregulated sales. I can’t gather up random items from around the dumpsters in my neighborhood, put them on a table, call them art, and then sell them smack dab in the middle of Central Park. If these people would like to “express” themselves, let them start their own artists’ commune somewhere and have people come to them. Real artists have followers who seek them out – frauds and junk dealers sell their crap on the street.

  9. Martha Chang says:

    I read the headline as “autistic street vendors” and IMO you’d have to be autistic in order to think that doing this would have any effect other than making people hate you even more.

  10. Bernardo says:

    if you live in the area or pass alot you can see as some of our commenters have that the situation is already out of hand. They create walking paths that your almost forst to walk through and dont space themselves out. So if you walking through you need to either walk basicly on the street or walk through them. Its really not fair to the people who jsut want to enjoy the limited park space we have.

    Granted every once in awhile i buy from them I still find it wrong that they monoplize the area.

    And its really unsafe. whenever a fight breaks out there there isnt any space to get away from it at times and when police need to come in for something or ambulances they have to stop or slow down because these people are taking up soo much space.

    To be honest I really wish NYC would police they vendors on all the treets. they really make the sidewalks worse than they have to be. at times they park themselves right outside subway entrances and take up about 2/3s of the side walk. Again another huge safety issue, but in the end its really just not fair for the people who have to work in the area.

    I would like to see these people have a desgnated area, but Id love to be able to have my park and walking space back more.

    I’d be sad to lose that little old russian lady who paints for me, but I’ll be glad to walk by faster.

  11. coren says:

    While I doubt the city is being completely honest, I imagine part of the reason the artists don’t want to be in designated spots are those designated spots can easily be avoided.

  12. pantheonoutcast says:

    Free speech is nice and all, but it has nothing to do with 1100 people crowding the passageways of the parks selling poorly-drawn caricatures, people’s names in calligraphy and the same black and white photographs of the Brooklyn Bridge. You want to sell your “artwork” to idiot tourists, then pool your resources and open a little store somewhere.

    • MMD says:

      The quality (or lack of it) is irrelevant.

      • pantheonoutcast says:

        They could be recreating the Mona Lisa out from pencil shavings and lipstick – the point is, they shouldn’t be allowed to sell their “art” on the streets of NYC without regulations. Should everyone just be allowed to show up to Union Square with truckloads of junk, set up tables and start hawking shit they found around their house? This isn’t the middle ages – if you want to sell things, then start a business and follow the laws and regulations that other legitimate business owners are forced to follow. Otherwise, get the hell off the sidewalks.

      • Big Mama Pain says:

        Really? What if all the homeless people decided to start calling the shit they pick out of dumpsters and try to sell on side streets “art”? They could set up shop in the parks, and boy would tourists LOVE that! They’re tolerated as long as they stick to certain areas, and the artists are only protesting because the areas that are designated are avoidable/limited-this whole free speech argument is an affront to the 1st amendment.

        On that note, though, I’m tired of walking through city parks and getting bombarded by “causes” that try to stuff pamphlets in my hands and ask me to sign petitions, too. Both are just over saturation.

      • Drew5764 says:

        Most people seem to have missed this fact.

        Of course everyone knows (enter artist name here) was tremendously appreciated and respected while s/he was alive, and could afford exorbitant (>$50 sf) prices for gallery space in Union Square.

    • ChuckECheese says:

      I think those are called galleries. Or tiendas.

  13. sopmodm14 says:

    isn’t NYC great ?

  14. JeremieNX says:

    I find streets and parks/plazas clogged with venders to be annoying. Here in Portland, Oregon, we have a specific area near the Burnside Bridge designated for “Saturday Market” that offers abundant space for vendors, utilities such as power and water, and easy access for the people who want to peruse the wares. It’s open every Saturday and Sunday. It’s an excellent venue for artists to hock their wares if they don’t want to/can’t invest in a full-fledged storefront.

    Can’t NYC do something similar?

  15. menty666 says:

    I kind of like this idea really. If I go to a park, I’m out to enjoy the weather, not wander through a Marekesh bazaar.

    If I’m in the mood to buy from an artist on the street, look over there, a little marketing area. yay.

  16. doctor.mike says:

    There is some confusion among the commenters about the status of the vendors. From my personal knowledge, as one of my closest friends is one of the vendors in Battery Park:
    The majority of the now-illegal photo vendors are Tibetan refugees who escaped from the Communist Chinese regime in their homeland. They are here on legal refugee visas. They all have business permits, displayed on their stands. They pay sales tax and income tax. I know because I helped them with the returns. The caricature artists, and the one who paint your name on the preprinted backgrounds are mostly escapees from mainland China, and here legally.

    If you study the existing and new regulations, you can see that these are very discriminatory against these legal vendors who stay in one place all day, and don’t block the paths.

    The ones not affected by the new regulations: The African Muslims (check NY Times archives about how they send money to Muslim charities) who sell all the counterfeit watches, handbags, and sunglasses! They don’t have stands, so exempt from the rules, so they only fall under the jurisdiction of customs.

    To the person who complained about vendors blocking bicycles: Read the park regulations! Bicycles, are specifically NOT allowed on pedestrian walkways.

  17. dabarak says:

    I can’t speak for the motivation of either side, but if the designated area is decent and easy to access, it could work out in favor of the artists. It could be “the place” to go shopping for that kind of art, providing the artists with people more likely to be in the mood for buying. It could even eventually develop into something more substantial over time. (That may be a bad thing for some, however.)

  18. GrimJack says:

    For the life of me I thought it read “NYC Finds Autistic Street Vendors Shockingly Uncooperative”… made more sense.

    My wife is an artist and graphic designer, and when she was little her New Orleans grandmother would introduce her to friends with “Have you met my granddaughter? She’s very aw-tistic”….