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Street Performers Blast Rule to Stay Inside Designated Spots In Some Parks

MANHATTAN — A little song and dance might soon cost buskers a lot of cash.

Starting May 8, the Department of Parks and Recreation will soon require the city's donation-seeking street performers to practice their craft inside "designated spots" in Union Square Park, Battery Park, the High Line, and certain areas of Central Park — or face a $250 fine.

In these parks, performers must also set up at least 50 feet away from a monument, fountain, or public art installation and more than five feet away from and park or street furniture, officials said.

The Department's decision — slammed by opponents as a "complete ban"— also puts performers the same legal category as street artists, marking an apparent reversal of Parks and Rec's previous policy, as officials said in May 2012 that performers do not have to follow the same rules as "expressive matter vendors."

Department Spokesman Philip Abramson countered that the news did not constitute a change.

"It was the Parks’ intent that the original rules did apply to performers," Abramson said in an e-mail to DNAinfo.com New York. 

"However, based on questions raised in a litigation matter, which did not involve Parks, the agency determined it was necessary to explicitly state that that the rules apply to performers and entertainers as to expressive matter vendors who sell or solicit donations in exchange for tangible items, such as paintings, books, or photographs."

Abramson also said that "generally speaking, outside of the four parks where spots have been designated, street performers that do not use a display stand will not be impacted by this rule amendment."

The decision has nonetheless prompted sharp criticism from performers and activists, who claim the Department's move amounts to nothing more than a "sinister" attack on open-air creatives.

"This is a disaster. This literally is a complete ban on them performing in parks even more than it is for artists,"said Robert Lederman, president of advocacy group Artists' Response to Illegal State Tactics.

"Unless you were going to go to some incredibly obscure park in the Bronx or Staten Island, you're not going to find any spot that's 50 feet from monuments and five feet from benches that has people who would be a potential audience. That's not going to happen."

Lederman, who is fighting these vending regulations in federal court, added: "Either they file a lawsuit, or they are completely out of business — that's a tragedy and a really sinister move on the part of the Parks Department."

"This is like telling these performers, 'Go home. Never come back. Never express yourselves again.'"

John Boyd, frontman of the Peace Industry Music Group, also disagreed with the city's decision.

Boyd, who successfully fought the Department's 2011 push to make Bethesda Terrace a Quiet Zone, was frustrated by renewed regulation of performers.

"It's wrongheaded. It's all going to be subjective," said Boyd, 50.

"I don't know what is the point of this stuff."

Boyd also warned that performers will protest the new regs.

"There's definitely going to be a fight," he said.