By Tim Gorta
CENTRAL PARK — The band played on in Central Park, despite the threat of a summons.
A group of 10 performers gathered at Bethesda Terrace on Sunday and performed "Ave Maria" in protest of the recent crackdown on musicians and singers in specially designated "quiet zones," like Bethesda Terrace and Strawberry Fields, in Central Park.
"Hardworking artists bringing peace, tranquility, and entertainment" to the city are "under attack," said Geoffrey Croft, president of New York City Park Advocates, in a press conference after the performance.
"The [Bloomberg] administration prefers the sounds of drinking to Chopin," Croft added, in reference to recent reports that the ticket blitz on musicians is connected to a planned food and drink concession at Bethesda Terrace.
Croft also denounced what he termed the arbitrary enforcement of the quiet zone rules and the infringement of the performers' First Amendment rights.
"I am prepared to challenge both the policy and the legality of the crackdown" on performers who sing and play unamplified instruments, said civil rights attorney Norman Siegel. "This intrusion on public space is unacceptable and impermissible."
The Parks Department says Central Park buskers draw large crowds that can be disruptive. The purpose of the quiet zones is to move the musicians a short distance away from where they now perform to allow park-goers who don't want to hear them to have peace and quiet, a Parks Department spokeswoman has said.
Siegel then questioned the Central Park Conservancy's claim that numerous complaints have been made about performers, and dismissed the statistic that only 33 acres of the park — 5 percent of the park's nearly 850 acres — have been designated as quiet zones.
"Most of the acreage [of Central Park] is wilderness," Siegel said. "What percentage of park area that people traditionally congregate in is being suppressed?"
Siegel asked whether the crackdown on park performers was "legal or wise" and called the musicians "patriots" exercising their First Amendment rights.
"This is a First Amendment issue," agreed John Boyd, a 48 year-old singer who has been hit with multiple summons and arrested after singing in the park.
"I have suffered," he added. "My family has suffered. Most of my summonses have been just for singing."
Siegel added that singing "doesn't disturb the peace. It enhances the peace."
"It has been unfortunate, but we will still keep playing," said Meredith Rachel Bogacz, a 25 year-old classically trained violinist.
"Street performers have something to offer to the public," said Arlen Olsen, a performer of Medieval music who has been busking for 20 years. "Art in public affects our society in a positive way and has a place here."