Volume 22, Number 31 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | December 11 - 17, 2009
The High Line and art
There’s no question that the High Line is an imaginative, new sort of park, the likes of which New Yorkers had never really witnessed before it opened this summer.
The use of the new park is now being put to the test. Namely, Robert Lederman, president of A.R.T.I.S.T. (Artists’ Response to Illegal State Tactics), has been arrested twice on the High Line for expressing what he says are his First Amendment rights to display and sell his artwork. This issue came up three years ago when a calligrapher in Battery Park was deemed not to be an artist and was temporarily banned from selling her work.
Federal court rulings have ordered that New York City cannot require permits for artists to vend in its public parks. True, the High Line is narrow so crowding and safety are issues. However, free speech and rule of law are the bedrock that our democracy is built upon.
The Parks Department needs to clarify quickly what it is doing on the High Line in terms of artists. We’re told new regulations may be forthcoming soon; until then, though, the arrests of artists should stop.
Even Lederman has said artists shouldn’t set up their displays on the park’s narrower pathways, and there are existing park rules that state artists can’t block pathways, exits and benches. No one is saying the High Line can’t have some specially tailored regulations regarding artists. But to ban artists entirely would be a legal landmine.
Parks has indicated it would like to involve Community Boards 2 and 4 in this discussion, and we wholeheartedly support that idea. Let’s open up this process and get the community involved. Surely, a solution can be found.