SEASON OF FESTIVAL: WSP | December 11, 2011

For more than a century, Washington Square Park has been one of the city’s most important cultural epicenters for public expression. The park has been home to thousands of talented musicians, street performers and artists who contribute to the cultural fabric of New York City.
Bob Dylan and Joan Baez are just a few of the noted names who have performed in the historic park.
In an attempt to prohibit and restrict this activity in the park, the Bloomberg administration is attempting to classify these performers as vendors. They recently began issuing tickets under the Parks Department’s new Expressive Matter vending rules and have instructed PEP officers to write tickets which include unlawful vending and unlawful assembly.
Critics assert this enforcement is a violation of the First Amendment, they say the vending rules are not applicable and are being enforced arbitrarily. The rule also severly limits the areas in the park where these free speach activites can done.
Tourists and locals alike flock to the park, not only to admire the noted architectural elements amidst the pastoral beauty, but also to enjoy the performers and take part in a uniquely New York experience. Some people specifically come to the park to hear and see performances, to take a few minutes to rest and enjoy the sights and sounds.
Since the 1940′s Washington Square Park had been an epicenter for folk music. In 1961 the Washington Square Association, along with then Parks Commissioner Newbold Morris attempted to ban folk singing arguing that the park should be “tranquil and quiet.” Police were ordered to remove performers and bystanders from the park.On Sunday, April 9th, close to 3, 000 “Beatniks, ” including a 19-year-old Bob Dylan, came to the park to play their music in opposition of this ban. The event came to be known as the Beatnik Riot, or Washington Square Folk Riot. The ban was eventually lifted after protests.

On Sunday attorney Ron Kuby read a April 6, 2011 letter from Mayor Bloomberg supporting the 50th anniversary celebration of the Riots which people strongly belived was not consitant with his current position regarding the crackdown of performers in the park.

“Music has always been at the heart of New York City,” the letter states.
“From folk to hard rock, from Jazz to hip-hop, we are proud to be home to so many musicians and venues that have inspired artists of every genre. That is why I am pleased to join you in applauding the folk performers who changed music, our City, and our world beginning a half a century ago.”

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