Regarding Charity

Hello everyone, my name is Arthur Medrano. I am a contributor on this blog and a fellow busker. I am hoping to inform you today about the nature of charity.

Busking in the subway today is a very hard job. Performers often play over a lot of noise and conversation. Sometimes, they are ignored and often go hours without making a ton of money, but if you’re like me, you love what you do and you keep coming back. The nature of buskers is to bring as much culture back into the city as possible while netting a few bucks to help pay for their stay. However, this often seems like an insurmountable task. There have been days where I’ve felt like I’m only worth what I’m making and at times, yes, it was $2 per 2 hours of playing. Still, it’s not a reflection of my talent or anything that I bring to the craft, it’s a reflection of the people around me.

A few weeks ago, I was playing on a subway platform in lower Manhattan and I wasn’t doing too hot for the first 45 minutes. I stuck it out though because I figured there’d be someone out there who would appreciate what I was doing. Those days, I played in a similar area and I saw a man who’d come every day at the same time to pick through the trash. He was homeless. He carried around bags of his belongings and often he’d score some grub from the trash can. Well, as I played, I saw a man approach the homeless man with an apparent look of concern. He fished through his wallet and pulled out two ones. The homeless man humbly refused the money. The man looked surprised, but instead of looking to me as I was playing, he put the money back in his wallet and walked off.

Although I was performing, I could feel my jaw just drop. I was unable to process the context of the situation with its relation to my situation. That man, who was willing to give money to a homeless person, refused to give money to a busker who was in proximity of this situation.

Now, if you’ll understand me correctly, buskers are not rich people. Most of the buskers that I know supplement their income with the money they make from playing. A few buskers manage to pay their rent and live frugally with their winnings. Still, there is a divide which many people cannot see – without that supplementary income, many buskers would have to give up their passions so that they could provide just enough to get by.

Busking isn’t ordinary. It’s extraordinary. It has the power to change people’s minds and shape how they feel for the rest of the day. Why is it that people aren’t aware that buskers deserve to be paid for sharing their passions?

If you see a busker, do me a favor, go up to them and at least talk to them. Busking can be an alienating venture, but if more people are wiling to engage performers not just with donations, but with words, we would be better off and maybe we wouldn’t have to worry where that next dollar is coming from.

Goodbye from Matthew

I’ve had a busy last week, including having my violin repaired and finding this excellent tiny piano, which we brought to Coney Island:

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For now it’s farewell! I’m taking off for Senegal this afternoon, and will be there on a Fulbright ETA grant until July 2014.

But that’s not the end of BuskNY. There’s a lot of interest, community-wide, in pursuing advocacy and publicity for public music in transit spaces. We saw that at our event at Armature Art Space on Monday the 7th, we see it with the visibility of “Music is Legal!” t-shirts underground, and we’ve seen it when a number of performers have recently stood up to articulate the MTA Rules to police.

So stay tuned. There will be new folks involved here soon, both with some blog posts and, we hope, with grassroots outreach using our printable flyers. Milo will be continuing the effort on visual art, with our eyes on a gallery show in fall 2014. And Kalan will be keeping up the fight to change problem stations – so please get in touch if you know of a problem with a particular station agent or spot. Keep up the music, and I’ll see you all in summer 2014!

Let’s make it a community!

Our first event happened on Monday night, and despite stormy weather, we had a great evening together at Armature Art Space:

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One thing we learned is how strongly we all feel the need to advocate for public performances. Many of us have made our own materials explaining what we do:

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We also recognized that New York — unlike many cities — already has many strong fans of subway performance. (They don’t always show it on their faces, but polls have repeatedly shown New Yorkers overwhelmingly supporting us, and even getting behind those controversial in-train performers!) This sure seems like the result of post-1985 legalization: if you let talented, dedicated, and generous performers do what they like for nearly 30 years, they can change the face of a city.

Nonetheless, we’d like to see New York even more visibly supportive of performers — and we’d particularly like to combat the widespread misunderstandings about subway music. Many folks support us despite thinking that we’re illicit — so let’s take a load of their backs and tell them that music is legal!

To spread the word, we’ll keep on wearing the shirts, and we’re also planning printable, crowd-sourced, customizable ads for performers’ cases. In the meantime, if you’d go out and start building community yourself — or if you’d like to make sure that the fellow musicians you see every day aren’t doing jail-time without you knowing it — you can print out your own set of BuskNY flyers designed by Kalan:

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Here’s the pdf, printable with four flyers to a page. Do you have an idea for a positive/powerful/funny/attention-grabbing/shareable poster? Share the thought with us!

 

Charges dropped

This is the second post in our case database series.

I would write up today’s news that the charges associated with my July 25th arrest were dropped, but there’s very little fanfare to report. When my name was called in court, I didn’t even have fifteen seconds of fame: the judge asked if I was indeed named Matthew Christian, I said I was, and she said: “alright, you’re all set.” And that was that: no paperwork, and not the least crumb of a sense that the city regrets having had me arrested for playing the violin.

There is one very important piece of take-away information from these: having video evidence of your arrest is important. In the video I took, my arresting officer insists that I’m not allowed to perform without a permit. That claim — which he used on video to justify my arrest — doesn’t hold water legal, as there is no such permit. The police flirted briefly with charges for blocking traffic, but since the police in the video had raised no concern about traffic, and since there had been no visible problem with traffic, they changed to a very dated state law concerning train stations.

The assistant district attorney handling my case could evidently see that wouldn’t fly. My Legal Aid attorney informed me a week ago that they had spoken by phone and that the charges would be dropped.

Could this case have gone differently? Sure: my arrest on 6/18 involved precisely the same circumstances, but because I didn’t take a video, I’m still charged with blocking traffic. If my arresting officer from 7/25 claimed that I was blocking traffic, it’s patently obvious that he’s lying; but if my arresting officer from 6/18 claims the same thing, it’s his word against mine. That case will be resolved tomorrow, and unfortunately, the lack of video means I’ll have to accept an ACD.

 

Submit your photos to the “Music is Legal” t-shirt gallery

Almost immediately after we started giving them out, we began spotting our “Music is Legal!” t-shirts all over the city. Now that we’ve managed to distribute most of this summer’s supply, we’re creating a gallery of photos performers wearing the shirts.

If you have a photo of yourself you’d like to submit, you can send it to BuskNY@gmail.com and we’ll post it in our “Music is Legal!” gallery!

We only have a few photos so far, but it would be great to see more people showing support!


Meanwhile, I’ve been working on setting up my own silkscreen equipment, so I can make even better shirts, with a new design, next year.

Also, don’t forget that our “Music is Legal” event at Armature Art Space in Bushwick is this Monday night! We hope to see you there!