New rule limits NYC's street musicians

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A city park tradition in which musicians have performed freely in Manhattan's open spaces will be limited under a new rule that takes effect May 8 and classifies them as vendors.

The rule, which includes mandating that musicians perform on 100 spots in which a medallion is embedded in concrete, will be enforced by Park Enforcement Patrol and NYPD officers. Violators could receive a summons and a $250 fine.

An appeal on the new rule that labels musicians as vendors is pending in federal court filed by Artists Response to Illegal State Tactics, a group of 2,000 musicians.

The new rule will apply in certain sections of Central Park, Battery Park, the High Line and Union Square Park, which are popular venues for musicians who depend on donations to earn a living.

Under the new park regulation, vendors are considered "sellers or solicitors of donations in exchange for tangible items, such as paintings, books, or photographs."

Philip Abramson, a park spokesman, said, "It was always our intent that the rules include performers and entertainers who seek donations within the definition of an expressive matter vendor, the rules will now state that explicitly."

But Robert Lederman, president of ARTIST, said "This is taking away my rights and my living." Lederman, 62, said the new rule "is not a clarification."

"It is about the privatization of public space." He said space at Union Square Park, where musicians once performed, now is being rented to vendors.

Under the new rule, musicians will have to adhere to regulations such as only performing on medallion spots; at least 5 feet away from a park bench, and 50 feet from a statue.

Ian Duerr, 31, a guitar player, said the new rule "is taking away jobs. This is not what people should be doing right now in this economy."

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Duerr, who plays with his band in Central Park, said that some musicians are at the medallion spots at 4 a.m. "It's terrible. The police are constantly moving us. We play music that people want to hear. We shouldn't have to worry about the police."

At Washington Square Park, saxophone player Dusty Rhodes is worried that his coveted spot next to the 19th century statue of Italian patriot Giuseppe Garibaldi may be taken away.

"I'm a humble musician. I play my music for New Yorkers -- not for the tourists on Times Square. My music is serious and original and the people who listen to me know that," he said.

There are no medallions at Washington Square Park, said Abramson. "We do not anticipate that the clarification will have much of an impact in this park" unless a display stand is used.

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