Tags: art, artists, brendan smith, city parks, culture, first amendment, manhattan, mayor bloomberg, new york, new york city, nicola armster, nyc, popular art, popular culture, roger hollander, street art
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Last week a bubbly woman from Ohio stopped by our table in Union Square. “This is why I love coming to New York!” she explained as she flipped through our silkscreens. “Everywhere else I go, it’s the same imported crap in the stores. But out here, I can meet local artists making art with their own hands.”
Well, not for long…
Mayor Bloomberg’s legal henchmen have unilaterally issued an administrative ruling effectively barring most art from New York’s City’s parks. Under the false guise of “public safety” and “congestion” they’ve crafted a complex set of rules banning 80-90% of artists from even displaying their work in Columbus Circle, Union Square Park and any other public park in Manhattan. The rules range from permitting only four artists to set up in Columbus Circle to barring artists from coming within fifty feet of a monument or five feet from a garbage can.
The effect of the de-facto art ban, according to the Associated Press, is to “dramatically alter a colorful part of the cityscape that has for decades served as an outdoor gallery popular among tourists in a city known worldwide for its arts.”
Bloomberg deems us a “public nuisance” because we do not fit neatly into plan for New York as an uninterrupted commercial venture where public space is rented, bought and sold. As Robert Lederman, president of the 2000 member group ARTIST, points out:
If preventing congestion in public parks was a genuine concern…why are there daily corporate promotions in NYC parks by companies like Disney, Nike, Best Buy and JP Morgan Chase and a thousand others that involve huge displays, giant trucks, powerlines and other dangerous infrastructure?
Bloomberg’s rationale for the new rules is that artists are blocking walkways and creating a safety hazard. But the administration allows — indeed, encourages — commercial vendors to set up at these same locations, as long as they are paying rent to the city. In Battery Park, for example, artists are to be chased out but eight hot dog vendors will be allowed to stay in the most high congestion areas. Bloomberg isn’t worried about congestion; these rules are part of his larger plan to privatize and “monetize” our city’s parks.
New York Law School’s City Law journal wondered this week if Bloomberg and his Parks Department are privately “feeling hypocritical about their proposal”, since last year the administration “successfully defended in court its decision to install a commercial restaurant in Union Square’s pavilion.” Bloomberg argued that Unions Square is a “traditionally commercial area.”
My partner and I have been selling on the streets of New York City for nearly a decade and not once have we seen Mayor Bloomberg in a city park — although we’ve often seen his political minions blocking walkways to campaign during election time.
While he’s been dreaming of higher office and courting Wall Street, we’ve quietly joined musicians, farmers, social justice activists, gardeners and others in an effort to breathe life back into public spaces and revive a local, sustainable cultural economy in Manhattan. We choose to display and sell our work in city parks rather than in cloistered Chelsea galleries or Soho boutiques. We see ourselves as part of a long tradition of New York artists embedding ourselves in local community efforts to make the world a better and more beautiful place.
Bloomberg, who chooses to spend many of his weekends golfing at his Bahama resort, might find our work of little value, but average New Yorkers tell us every day that they treasure this flowering of grassroots culture in their parks. Just last week a 100 random NYC park-goers were stopped and asked if street artists enhanced or detracted from their park experience. Ninety-four of them stated that artists enhance New Yorkers’ park experience.
Our cracker-jack first amendment lawyers tell us we have a decent chance of beating Bloomberg in court — as we did against Giuliani in 1996 when a federal appeals court ruled that artists are protected by the First Amendment. And just this week the ACLU called on Bloomberg to withdraw his proposal. According to NYCLU Legal Director Arthur Eisenberg:
Parks have historically been recognized as vitally important for social, artistic and political expression. The Parks Department should make every effort to accommodate our city’s artists, poets and authors. It must withdraw its proposal until it can publicly demonstrate it is meeting its First Amendment obligations.
But at the end of the day this battle is about far more than artists’ first amendment rights. This is a battle for the cultural soul of New York City — and every New Yorker has a stake in the outcome. As Lederman warns, Bloomberg and the Parks Commissioner see themselves as real estate agents “trying to get the highest price per square foot for all of our public parks. If the people of NYC don’t wake up to this soon, there will be no more truly public places left in America’s greatest city.”
Brendan Smith and his partner Nicola Armster have sold their green art on the streets of New York City for more than a decade. Read their Green Art Manifesto at www.nicolaandthenewfoundlander.com
’1934′: Reflecting On America’s First Big Art Buy March 5, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Economic Crisis, Labor.
Tags: art, artists, betsy broun, depression art, dorothea lange, earle richardson, elizabeth blair, franklin roosevelt, golden gate bridge, great depression, library of congress, migrant mother, morris kantor, national endowment arts, nea, New Deal, new deal artists, npr, photographers, ray strong, roger hollander, smithsonian, smithsonian american art museum, workers
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NPR, March 5, 2009
“Looking back on the legacy of the 1930s program … what we see is [that] they gave us back to ourselves.”
Betsy Broun, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Who Was Eligible?
Morning Edition, March 5, 2009 · The economic stimulus package Congress passed last month includes $50 million in emergency funding for the National Endowment for the Arts — money some legislators didn’t think belonged in the bill.
Doubters and supporters both, though, should find food for thought in a timely new show at the Smithsonian American Art Museum called “1934: A New Deal For Artists.” The show looks at the first time American artists — thousands of them — got direct government support.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, like today’s lawmakers, caught some flak for wanting to include artists in his relief program. He justified his decision, as American Art Museum director Betsy Broun explains, by saying, “They’re workers, and they need to eat, too.”
Broun says you can almost tell the artists were thankful, based on the vivid studies of the American experience they produced: a vibrant painting of a nighttime baseball game in West Nyack, N.Y., by Morris Kantor; an almost regal portrait of African-American cotton pickers by Earle Richardson; a wide view of the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge by Ray Strong.
“There was a lot of despair … and shame at being on government relief,” says Ann Wagner, one of the curators of the “New Deal” show. For both artists and Americans at large, “these works showed there was plenty to be proud of in their home areas.”
Wagner says the program ultimately produced more than 15,000 works, all of them intended for public spaces such as post offices, libraries and hospitals.
The success of the program led to more government investment in art and artists, with various programs throughout the Depression.
Accomplished photographers, for instance, were sent out specifically to document the effects of the Depression on rural America.
One result was Dorothea Lange’s iconic Migrant Mother photograph. In a 1964 interview with the Smithsonian, Lange said the people she photographed were often grateful she was there to help record their stories.
“It meant a lot that the government in Washington was aware enough even to send you out,” said Lange.
Broun points out that Roosevelt once said, “A hundred years from now, my administration will be known for its art, not for its relief.” Looking back on the legacy of the ’30s program, Broun says, “what we see is [that] they gave us back to ourselves.”
Today, when it comes to arts money in the economic stimulus, expectations are different. Artists and arts organizations need to prove their work will pump money into the local economy.
But the New Deal did validate the role of artists in American society. Then, as now, the government did give money to artists — just so long as the artists give the country something practical in return.