Wednesday, April 17, 2013

iTOMB: Supporting Our First Amendment Rights

You have the right to speak freely, but that right must be defended:)

And so the battle wages on - as if expressing oneself should be a battle:(

In 2011, according to the New York Times, the city "cracked down" on vendors of art and performers in city parks by issuing sommonses to performers for accepting donations for whatever their art might have been - singing, dancing, playing an instrument or reciting Shakespeare. An Orwellian nightmare? The Fascist's boot? No, this is America, and not just any America. This is America in New York City - a city that prides itself in its production and consumption of all things artistic - Broadway, Carnegie Hall, The Met (both of them), MoMA and more.

But those vaunted institutions and their presentations have been pre-approved by the powers that be and certified not to be the Naked Cowboy - but so long as he stays in Times Square and doesn't gallup up to Central Park, even the Naked Cowboy is legal NYC entertainment - and entitled to his dollar. It's only those performers in the parks that are the problem - maybe because the city can't pick and choose the performances they get and doesn't get a percentage of their bucket - a King's ransom for sure.

Ronald L. Kuby, a civil rights attorney involved in the 2011 proceedings, described the practice of fining minstrels and the like as such: "This is a heavy-handed solution to a nonexistent problem,”, he said.

And so we have the right to speak freely it seems, just so long as we are not being compensated for our thoughts. And therein lies the rub. If our thoughts are so interesting as to elicit a buck from a passerby, the city would like a cut. They'll approve and even pay for all sorts of artistic Tom-foolery, like turning the Columbus statue into a trailer home velvet Elvis, if it brings in a buck. But all those pesky park buskers - "Do they bring us a buck?", the city asks. Probably more than any Bloomocrat (kind of like a Belieber) could know. Without street performers New York wouldn't be the cultural Petrie dish that millions of tourists come to experience every year.

In 2011 the edict was for performers to stay away from statues, benches  and monuments in city parks. "Why" is another question. Fast forward to today and the most recent amendment to the park rules tells performers to just stay away - period - from city parks in their entirety.

The New York World reports: "Since 2010, the city has steered art, book and other “expressive matter” vendors in parks to specific locations: along the curb, away from park furniture like benches and at least 50 feet away from a monument. In Union Square, Battery Park, the High Line and parts of Central Park, they may work only in designated vending areas.

Now singers, rappers, jugglers, dancers and contortionists — even human statues — will have to join them, if they perform in exchange for a fee or a donation." 

But there are only so many 'designated' spots available, marked by a plastic medallion in the pavement -  and those are already taken. And so without additional designated areas, the message to performers is simply this: "Go away. Or we will put you in jail".

And artist Robert Lederman knows. He's been arrested nearly 50 times since the 90s for promoting his art, yet has never been convicted. Conversely, he's counter sued for false arrest and become a cultural icon and cottage industry for artists rights.

“They did affidavits and testified orally in my case claiming that because of the ruling they had no choice but to take entertainment and street performers out of the park rules, and now they are putting them back in. They are going to get sued about this by every performer.”, he said about the current amendment, which effectively bans performing artists from city parks.


iTOMB's contribution to our city's public art malaise. Stephanie 03.28.13

But with our work on iTOMB, I'm confused. Can I really be fined or jailed  in America for providing people the tools to express themselves in a public space? I'd better consult with Ai Wei Wei about what it's like to do a few weeks in a government re-education camp.

Our performance is executed by everyone and everyone loves it in a space that everyone payed for. What's wrong with the picture this all paints? Time, the Parks Department, the cops, artists, the public and the courts will tell. But for now there are just a couple of things that we can do to bring our plight to a higher light:

1) Contact New York City Parks Commissioner, Veronica M. White, and tell her that you support performers in our parks. This will make your voice heard to those who are serving you.

2) Tweet or Instagram with your iTOMB photo, "I like iTOMB @HighLineNYC". This will let park admin know that iTOMB is much more a community service than a business. News about our 501(c)3 non-profit application, soon.


I'm working on a game plan and petition for all performers and preparing for the very likely eventuality that I will be cited and possibly arrested for helping the masses think, but in the meantime, I'm advocvating one or two of the above.

On a more personal note, I am including below, a copy of Todd Rundgren's career retrospective concert with the Metropole Orchestra in Amsterdam last year. Having created the world's first artist based music subscription service, and even allowing fans to re-configure his music into user friendly compositions, Todd has evoked the spirit I try to bring to iTOMB. The spirit that we are all born free to create and that not creating, and sharing our visions with the society at large, would be the greatest crime of all.





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