Artists Protest City's New Vendor Restrictions in Union Square Park
By Ben Fractenberg
UNION SQUARE — Nearly 100 art vendors, many chanting "artist power," rallied in Union Square Monday morning to protest new rules restricting where they can sell their work.
The protest took place the day the new regulations went into effect. The Parks Department set up designated booth space for artists in four city parks – Central Park, Union Square, High Line Park, and Battery Park – which will be filled each morning on a first come, first served basis.
The spaces are marked in specific locations with a plastic medallion that reads, "Expressive Matter Vendor."
“Tell Mayor Mike Bloomberg this park belongs to the public,” said Robert Lederman, who is the president of Artists’ Response To Illegal State Tactics.
Lederman, 59, said he has been selling his work in Union Square for 12 years. He is part of a lawsuit against the city that argues the rules violate their First Amendment rights.
Other vendors point toward the impact the new law will have on their income.
“I’ve been selling art for four years and this will affect my ability to make a living,” said 32-year-old Robert Steel.
The city has said the new rules are needed to ease congestion in and protect the beauty of city parks.
But protesters say the new rules will not create more room, as other types of vendors will likely take their place.
Saria Delacruz, 26, was on the way to an internship when she passed the protest.
“I voted for Mike Bloomberg because he has done great things for the city, but he can take things to the extreme,” she said. “It’s a part of New York City street culture, and you’re gonna take it away?”
Until there is a ruling on the suit, Lederman and other artists plan to keep protesting the rules and selling their work – even if it means defying city law.
“I hate to be arrested,” said Lederman. “But I hate having my rights taken away even more.”