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.