Volume 19 • Issue 13 | August 11 - 17, 2006

The picture changes as street artists retract letter

By David Spett

Four of the five members of the Soho International Artists’ Cooperative Union have retracted a letter to the City Council requesting original-artist-only zones in Manhattan restricted to First Amendment vendors.

The only name missing from the retraction was Lawrence White, who used to sell his photography on W. Broadway but now works in Upstate New York. White is a de facto leader of the W. Broadway artists’ contingent.

S.I.A.C.U.’s members are higher-end artists who vend, or used to vend, their work on W. Broadway around Prince and Spring Sts.

The retracted letter was written on behalf of S.I.A.C.U. by Eugene B. Nathanson, a First Amendment attorney, in May 2005. Jill Stasium, one of the S.I.A.C.U. artists, said she wanted the letter retracted because she feared the City Council might use it to institute a street artist permitting system.

“Nobody wants a permit out there,” Stasium said.

The retracted letter references San Francisco as “an example of an original-artist-only zone to show that such a zone can be successful.” San Francisco employs a strict permitting system in its original-artist-only zones. Original artists produce their own artwork, as opposed to vending others’ work or reproductions of others’ work.

Robert Lederman, president of A.R.T.I.S.T., or Artists’ Response to Illegal State Tactics, said he encouraged the four S.I.A.C.U. members to retract the letter.

“The four members of S.I.A.C.U. each individually and all together explained to me that they had no idea that’s what their letter was requesting,” Lederman said, referring to a permitting system. “I explained to them that [they] took an action. It was a wrong action. If there’s a way to undo it, it would make sense to undo it.”

Lederman and Stasium said it was particularly important to retract the letter before City Councilmember Alan Gerson announces any plans to change the city’s street artist vending laws. Gerson has said he intends to introduce legislation before the end of this summer.

White was not invited to sign the retraction. Stasium said it was because White was Upstate and the other four S.I.A.C.U. members needed to act quickly.

But White, who denied that the original letter had anything to do with artist permits, said Lederman was using the original letter as a red herring.

“That letter doesn’t say anything about permits,” White said. “It doesn’t say anything in there that would be restrictive on artists. All it talks about is in certain areas artists would be able to set up. I’m really sorry that these artists haven’t contacted me to say what’s up with this, or to research it a little deeper.”

Nathanson, S.I.A.C.U.’s former lawyer, said he’s not sure what Lederman and Stasium mean by an artist-permitting system. “The programs that were discussed [in the letter] basically involved opening up the streets to artists, and only to artists, and allowing them to display and sell their work,” Nathanson said. “I think that the group that you’re talking about, Mr. Lederman’s group, is somewhat confused.”


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