If you live or work in Manhattan, you are bound to see people selling things on the street. Winter-wear, umbrellas or even art. We’ve also seen the shuffle vendors make to gather their wares when a police officer approaches. For New York City artist Robert Lederman, the founder of Artists’ Response To Illegal State Tactics (ARTIST), this shuffle became routine as officers procured him 42 times for selling his artwork without a license or in a restricted area. Newsweek called it “New York City’s War on Artists” because unjust regulations prohibit artists like Lederman to sell in most high-volume areas, but allow street performers, or “buskers,” greater privileges for soliciting money in the city. 

ARTIST was founded in 1993 after an incident in which many of Lederman’s works were confiscated, and they were his only source of income at the time. He saw the courts repeatedly side with him in these disputes, citing violations to First Amendment rights of expression and the Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection under the law. ARTIST, however, was denied a request to depose high ranking officials such as former Mayor Giuliani and outgoing Mayor Bloomberg about the bias that exists in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. French artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude also challenged Bloomberg’s Intro #160, which would require artists to compete in a lottery to sell their work in parks.

Newsweek cites a 2000 editorial in Village Voice accusing the two administrations of being biased towards businesses and privatizing public spaces. Specifically, legislators in Bloomberg’s camp are more interested in the economic loss caused by these art dealers. Do they pay enough taxes? Spokesman Frank Barry from Bloomberg says, “No city in the country has done more to support the arts – and champion public art projects – than New York under Mayor Bloomberg.”

New York City’s strict laws also concern struggling street artists nationwide, as other cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles have adopted similar restrictions for street vending of art. In St. Augustine, Florida, a new law greatly diminishes the areas where these buskers are allowed since most of the city is considered “historic district.”

Though making the lives of starving artists difficult, NYC officials contend the laws are beneficial for public safety in areas with dense foot traffic, such as Central Park, Union Square, Battery Park and the High Line.

In your opinion, how much of a hazard or nuisance are street vendors? Chime in on Twitter @untappedcities.

One thought on “Street Vendors Of Art Targeted By New York City Policy Bring Up Questions About First Amendment Rights

  1. Unfortunately he represents no group of “Artists” only himself who was elected for a 6 month period of time in 1993. He does not make his living as a Street Artist on the Street on a regular basis or allow other long standing Street Artists to be party to his law suits even though they display their art regularly for more than 3 decades. A.R.T.I.S.T. is not Robert Lederman’s group. It was originally a group of Street Artists who came together with a common cause, they all had been arrested and there work confiscated by the Police and not given back after the arrest. At the time it was happening too many of the Street Artists. There have been no meeting or elections since 1993 and many of the original members are still displaying their art regularly on NYC Streets never gaining any funds from any of the multiple Law Suits that have been filed By Lederman in the Name of A.R.T.I.S.T. with only him a one or two artist actually gaining from the suits even though the name A.R.T.I.S.T. is used in the briefs in court. Even the name of the group was voted on by the community of the group. When lederman was voted in there were only about 8 artists present for the vote in 1993 many artists split to other groups. Lederman did not have a following of “hundreds”. How many days with his Art has Lederman spent out there on the streets in last 30 years??? I know many street Artists including myself that have gone out 1000 times to “one” in all season’s of the year, against Lederman’s presence on the Street to actually support himself. This was a democratic group with board members in the beginning with wishes and wants of the Street Artists to be taken into consideration. What is the vast majority on Street now is Copy Right infringed mass produced work being sold by a vendor not a “Author Artist” who get paid a daily rate, who goes to a photo copy machine and reproduces images that they have “NO LICENSE” to reproduce, selling them or almost nothing which has put the “Dinosaur Street Artist” who is selling original authored work in a financially challenging position to even be able to support themselves and survive in this mass produced climate on the Streets that has been that way since 1997. Why does not the Press focus on the other “Street Artists” out there going out every day with their Original authored Art Work for “decades” and how they survive with only their talents and total persistence into the elements without the aid of constant law suit filings.

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