Letters to the Editor
Broad brush in Soho
To The Editor:
I just read David Spetts article on street artists and was absolutely shocked to read comments by First Precinct Community Affairs Officer Rick Lee (news article, July 21 27, Soho street artists brush with police). I have worked with Mr. Lee on the police community board for several years, and I can see no reason why he would make such a comment. Mr. Lee has met and has worked with several artists who not only display their own artwork in Soho, they live in the neighborhood as well. He is familiar with the fact that these artists are not only strong emerging talents, he knows them to be good and active citizens, and taxpayers as well. Why he would inaccurately state that we are rude, urinate in doorways, vulgar, fight, and are drunk is beyond me.
Every group has bad apples, but the artists of W. Broadway are a group to be proud of, not to denigrate. Shame on Mr. Lee.
However, some of his comments do shine a bright light on the main problem with the perspective of those who have aligned against us. The Bery court decision that gave artists rights to display on the street, states that artists are people who create and display their own paintings, photography, sculpture, or prints. Not trinket or cheap jewelry sales people. It takes a person with a strong predisposition and dark motives to misrepresent this obvious fact. Mr. Lee has conveniently lumped us all together so that he can use this confusion to get rid of everyone who uses the sidewalks of Soho to make a living.
I am also very disappointed that Councilmember Gerson would state that rules such as the 20-foot from a door regulation should be enforced even though they are patently unfair. I sincerely hope Mr. Gerson comes to his senses and stops this current enforcement process before it spins out of control.
I would also like to correct a couple of inaccurate comments Mr. Spett made in his otherwise very good and revealing article.
I am not now, nor have I have ever been in favor of permits or licenses for artists. Artists can be identified by the signature on their work (or proof of copyright), their own I.D. (drivers license or passport) and their state tax I.D. (every artist who sells must have one). This system has worked elsewhere and would be very helpful to separate artists from those illegal vendors who hide behind our rights and hog spaces on the sidewalk.
I am not a leader of the street artists. I have been very active through the years on this issue, but I do so out of a sense of responsibility, not out of any desire to be a leader.
To The Editor:
David Spetts article on the Soho street artists was a sadly narrow-minded and reactionary piece about an important community issue that deserves considerably more depth and insight. Using precinct officer Rick Lees shamelessly sophomoric generalizations as the centerpiece of his opening statement is like making sweeping statements about white Americans based on a Klan rally. While Lees observations may be true in individual cases, there is in fact no they in the artists community that acts in this manner.
A great many of these artists work seven day weeks all year. Most paint Monday through Friday and then get up at 5 a.m. on the weekends to set up their stands and submit their work to the whims of the free marketplace. Its a great contemporary example of rugged individualism.
One of the most distressing and disappointing things about Mr. Spetts article is how seriously it misrepresents the true character of this wonderful neighborhood that I have lived in for many years. Soho is known as an artistic center of this city, this country, and the world. For those few who do complain, a much greater many others would mourn the loss of these artists. The remarks of the local store owners was particularly telling in this matter. It is well known that a significant amount of the weekend economy of local shops and markets is based on, and boosted by the influx of people who come into Soho on the weekends specifically because of the presence of the street artists.
The comment that this is not 1969 is actually a very sad indictment and commentary about the hardening of the cultural arteries weve experienced in the recent years. Our country has long prided itself on being a free society that rewards initiative, hard work, productivity, and self reliance. Jill Stasium, Larry White and the majority of the painters on W. Broadway exemplify these important values. I thought that the most open and intelligent remark I read in this article was Sean Sweeneys observation that the Soho Alliance had better things to do. Maybe he, Spett, officer Lee, and this reactionary minority will take Sweeneys own advice to heart and give up on this, grow up.
Im not a painter but a proud local and lover of the arts in our community.
To The Editor:
I consider myself a hard-bitten New Yorker. But my heart swelled with pride as I heard City Councilmember Alan Gerson speak last week in support of the right to bike, walk and demonstrate in our city.
The occasion was a hastily called press conference to protest proposed new regulations that would require any group of 20 or more bicyclists to obtain a police permit and would let the police arrest a mere pair of pedestrians or cyclists for violating a traffic law together.
Predictably (and hearteningly), civil liberties lawyer Norman Siegel and the grassroots environmental group Times Up were there. So was Alan, eloquently reminding Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly that part of the right to protest is the right to spontaneously protest, and forcefully condemning the regulations as an assault on speech, cycling, walking and our civic traditions of free expression and dissent.
It takes courage to buck City Hall, particularly when others are hanging back to test the political winds. Alan didnt wait, he led. And City Council Speaker Christine Quinn evidently has followed, telling the press that she and the Council will indeed scrutinize the regulations.
Somewhere, Justice William O. Douglas is smiling. Bravo Alan.