Volume 19 • Issue 11 | July 28- - August 3, 2006

Letters to the Editor

Broad brush in Soho

To The Editor:
I just read David Spett’s 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.”

Lawrence White

Hard-working artists

To The Editor:
David Spett’s 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 Lee’s shamelessly sophomoric generalizations as the centerpiece of his opening statement is like making sweeping statements about white Americans based on a Klan rally. While Lee’s observations may be true in individual cases, there is in fact no “they” in the artist’s 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. It’s a great contemporary example of “rugged individualism.”

One of the most distressing and disappointing things about Mr. Spett’s 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 we’ve 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 Sweeney’s observation that the Soho Alliance “had better things to do.” Maybe he, Spett, officer Lee, and this reactionary minority will take Sweeney’s own advice to heart and “give up on this, grow up.”

I’m not a painter but a proud local and lover of the arts in our community.

Tom Reynolds

Cycling liberties

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 Time’s 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 didn’t 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.

Charles Komanoff

Letters policy
Downtown Express welcomes letters to The Editor. They must include the writer’s first and last name, a phone number for confirmation purposes only, and any affiliation that relates directly to the letter’s subject matter. Letters should be less than 300 words. Downtown Express reserves the right to edit letters for space, clarity, civility or libel reasons. Letters should be emailed to news@DowntownExpress.com or can be mailed to 145 Sixth Ave., N.Y., N.Y. 10013.


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