Subway performers rally on Second Ave

In the last five years, we have worked hard to ensure that no performer is wrongfully ejected, ticketed, or arrested for artistic performance in the New York subway system. We believe that artistic performance is a gift not only to the performing community, but to subway riders as well.

That’s why it’s particularly troubling to see stations on Second Ave, a subway line hailed for integrating public art, as the site for harassment and wrongful ticketing by NYPD officials. In the press release below, as well as on Facebook, BuskNY is announcing a rally in support of our core idea: that freelance performers deserve respect and equality in public space.


Subway safety update: 2016 so far


Since the ‘subway crackdown’ in 2014, BuskNY has observed a decline in incidents of wrongful arrest, ticketing, and ejection. We’re thankful for the actions of those like Andrew Kalleen, whose public denunciation of his wrongful arrest gave greater publicity to the legality of subway performance.

This year so far, there have been concerns about ejections at Bedford Avenue and at Times Square, as well as about arrests elsewhere in the system. Because BuskNY has had fewer volunteers available for outreach, we are unsure of the extent of this problem. However, other performers have worked on outreach and are working to organize a civil rights lawsuit. If you are aware of an incident or would like to speak about the logistics of contacting a lawyer, please reach out using our contact page.

In other news, author, messenger, and subway music enthusiast Kurt Boone will be presenting his new book Subway Beats on November 14 at the New York Public Library. We’ll be in attendance and would be thrilled to see you there.14285705_10154624638474739_391853877_o.jpg

Busking at 30: Subway Music Festival

Thirty years after New York City constitutionally protected subway performance, BuskNY is pleased to announce “Busking at 30,” a one-day music festival on August 23rd, in celebration of an art form that has long given voice to the city’s wealth of musical traditions and genres.


The festival, to be held in Brooklyn’s Von King Park, is timed to coincide with the passage of City Council Resolution #705, which recognizes the 30th anniversary of the 1985 court case People v. Manning. That case is known among performers for granting constitutional protection to artistic performance in New York City’s subways, thereby defining the unique musical diversity of the city’s underground.

At the festival, some of the city’s best known subway performers will offer intimate performances at spots through the park during the afternoon. Then, thanks to the generosity of supporters of BuskNY’s ongoing Busking at 30 crowdfunding campaign, the park amphitheater will be electrified from 5:00 to 7:00 by subway fan favorites like banjo duo Coyote and Crow, American Idol contestant Najah Lewis, and the same guitarist named in the original 1985 court case, Roger Manning.


With the recent rise in arrests and harassment of subway performers, “Busking at 30” aims to highlight the importance of this underground culture and what it brings to the diverse and vibrant culture of New York City. We thank you for your support in making the festival possible, and we look forward to seeing you there!

Subway Performers Decry Auditions

This morning, BuskNY is at the Music Under New York auditions, pointing out the negative effects that MUNY’s banners have on freelance musicians who give over 90% of all subway performances.

If you’re stopping by, please check in with us. Our Press Release follows:


Matthew Christian –
Adam Walsh –


Since 1985, subway music has been constitutionally protected in the New York City subway – and from
1987 on, MTA rules have specifically authorized artistic performance for the general public. Still, on
Tuesday, May 19, the MTA will hold auditions to provide banners to a select few musicians – a practice
that has come under increasing scrutiny for its tendency to place the city’s freelance performers at risk
for wrongful ejection, ticketing, and arrest.
Music Under New York, the MTA program that manages the promotional performance program,
provides a visible public face of performing arts in the subway; past internal MTA reports have lauded
its contribution to MTA approval ratings. Yet, subway performance advocacy organization BuskNY
notes, over 90% of all performances are given by freelancers – while MUNY performers provide,
according to the MTA website, a tiny fraction of all live music, with a mere 20 performances daily.
Worse, advocates say, freelance performers are negatively impacted by the mistaken impression that
MUNY membership is a legal requirement to perform. Many freelancers receive tickets or are ejected
from the stations where they perform; according to BuskNY, its data shows this type of harassment
particularly affecting Black and Latino performers, as well as musicians with disabilities.
In one much-publicized case, singer and guitarist Andrew Kalleen was arrested in the fall of October
2014 when a police officer, apparently referring to MUNY’s promotional banners, mistakenly claimed
that Kalleen needed a “permit” to perform in the Metropolitan Avenue “G” station. (According to
freelance performers, MUNY’s promotional banners are widely referred to as “permits” by police and
by MUNY members).

Freelance performers credit this inaccuracy as the cause of many arrests, and say MUNY has done little
to clarify the situation. “Every year, MUNY’s auditions are covered by national media – and many
reports claim, mistakenly, that MUNY membership is a legal requirement, or that MUNY provides a
‘permit’ to perform,” says Matthew Christian, co-founder of BuskNY.

Christian adds that MUNY’s promotional materials and website make no mention of the law permitting
public performances, leading police and media to believe MUNY is a legal requirement. For its part,
MUNY has refused meetings with freelance musicians – and this year, advocates’ permit to distribute
flyers outside of the MUNY audition was denied. In 2015, it seems, the fight for performers’ rights

Safety Alert — Wrongful Arrest at Second Avenue

Press release: BuskNY Condemns Latest Subway Music Arrest

The apparent silver lining to the October, 2014 arrest of Andrew Kalleen was massive attention to the wrongful arrests experienced by our community. With many performers, BuskNY hoped that Andrew’s choice to speak out would lead to a reduction in harassment.

It turns out that the solution won’t come so quickly. This past Thursday, Erik Meier, a huge part of the performing world centered around Metropolitan Avenue, was arrested at on the Second Avenue F platform. He was held overnight and ultimately charged — this gets a little surreal — with “loitering” and “sleep[ing] or doz[ing] where such activity may be hazardous to such person or to others.”

Erik Meier

From everyone involved in BuskNY, we’re deeply disappointed. It’s time for the NYPD to address the need to train its officers — and it’s time for the MTA to address the role that its promotional program, Music Under New York, plays in generating misconceptions. MUNY’s well-publicized auditions have led too many New Yorkers believe that program membership is a legal requirement — and every year, that leads to wrongful arrest of the freelancers who give over 90% of all subway performances.

There’s good news. Folks are organizing out there, and Erik is not going to hesitate to sue. (He won’t have difficulty, either: in the last three years, performers’ suits have added up to $50,000 or more in wrongful arrest settlements). Still, it’s tough for those of us performing. Keep the songs coming — and reach out if you need a banner or another copy of those rules!

BuskNY is Looking for Volunteers

outreach BuskNY is looking for folks with a few minutes to spare for performer outreach. It’s fun and low-commitment (0-3 hours per week, as you wish). Most of all, it’s a chance to hear great music. The key duty is direct outreach — i.e. chatting — with the performers you cross in the subway. You can read more on Idealist. To get involved, simply RSVP on Facebook for our training event next Monday, December 15 at 6:45 at  224 W 29th St, 14th floor. There will be snacks, and participants will receive free “We Are Culture” t-shirts. In other news, we’ve prepared our Kickstarter rewards for shipping. Those of you who backed our campaign can expect them to arrive soon, and anyone who missed out can still buy one for $25 — just email me at   kickstartermailing 001

Busker Ball VIII

BuskNY was proud to speak at Busker Ball 8, a showcase for the city’s most vibrant freelance performers, on Thursday. Under the direction of Theo Eastwind, the latest Busker Ball brought its focus to activism, criticizing the wrongful ejections, tickets, and arrests that have plagued the NYC subway performing community.

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Grace Kalambay performs

BuskNY spoke and displayed the banner we used for our rally at City Hall, and the audience also heard a recorded update on buskers’ rights from Nick Broad of the Busking Project.

Performers included Lawrence Wilson, Eli Bridges and Ken Shoji, Theo Eastwind, Grace Kalambay, Cathie Russo, and Mr. Reed.

2014 Kickstarter: “We Are Culture” T-shirts

A couple of days ago we launched our Kickstarter campaign to make new t-shirts. They’ll be free for performers like before, and you can also get one for $25 by backing our project!

weareculture1 002

The 2014 shirt

BuskNY 2014: “We Are Culture”

by Matthew Christian

Art by Heidi Younger, Chris Wright, Marina Ross, and Ron Richter

Art by Heidi Younger, Chris Wright, Marina Ross, and Ron Richter

We also have made a Facebook event for our art show SHOWTIME: Underground Arts, which so far features art by Chris Wright, David Everitt-Carlson, Ron Richter, Marina Ross, and Heidi Younger and will be opening October 3. We are hoping to get more artists involved before the Sept 19 deadline– if you have any art to submit or would like to perform at the opening, please send me an email at


Since NYPD Commissioner William Bratton took office in January, BuskNY has observed a marked increase in the harassment of subway performers.

Freelance platform performers, who comply fully with MTA Rules, have experienced a wave of ejections, tickets, and arrests. As was recently reported, even clearly wrongful tickets require a lengthy legal challenge to dismiss. (In one of our cases, a performer required a pro bono appeal to fight a visibly wrongful ticket). Should performers without the time and resources to fight wrongful charges receive a criminal record?

Meanwhile, performers who sing and dance on trains have found themselves under arrest. In hundreds of cases, these dancers have been charged not under MTA Rule 1050.6 (c) (1) (4) (“civil penalties imposed by the transit adjudication bureau in an amount not to exceed one hundred dollars per violation”), but with reckless endangerment (“a Class A misdemeanor carrying up to a year in jail time). Is this a fair penalty?

We invite performers, supporters, and media to discuss these questions, and to comment on the broader effects of Broken Window policing, at our first press conference to be held jointly with New Yorkers Against Bratton:

Tuesday, August 12, 12:00

City Hall Steps



*Case Dismissed*

Last week I went in to court to finally face off with officer Liu for my puppet show arrest under time square in April:

the video of which was put to delightful narration in a recent interview:

” This is a very emotional biographical film with several key plot points, along with several key emotional performances:  The Promulgation of Rights,The Gentle Handcuffing, The Procession up the Escalator, The Stripping of the Mask, The responsibilty-beleagured role of the Officer in Charge illustrating social rank and functional power as well as governed empathy.  (It’s not the last time this will happen, but I’m thinking of the agonizingly detailed death-march of Jesus described by The Stations of the Cross, also called Via Dolorosa or Way of Sorrows) The police swoop in to reclaim that Priority to the space which Kalan had once claimed as a meer denizen.”

So after staying up all night frantically searching for the receipt they had given me for the time my body spent in their cage (which it turns out you don’t really need at all) and not finding it, I donned my swank brown seventies three-piece and headed into the city amidst swaths of birdsong. In the line at midtown community court for half an hour I played Woodie Guthrie’s All You Fascists Bound To Lose on my mini-speaker, and at long last past the threshold of the halls of justice, only to be told by the clerk at the desk that my case had been dismissed, and “I should get something in the mail.” My heart sank. My temples pounded. My blood curled. Even when they lose, they win, gobbling up another day of my life in bureaucratic feinting. I never got anything in the mail. I probably never will. But now, onwards and upwards, towards the consideration of civil matters. Enough is Enough.