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!

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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 milo@buskny.com.

PRESS CONFERENCE SCHEDULED

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

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*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.

Advice from Court

Matthew asked for a bit of ‘advice’ for any buskers facing a hearing for either a wrongful ticket or arrest while Busking the NYC Subways.

My advice in a nutshell to any buskers facing a cop in court for wrongful ticket or arrest is be prepared ….I might even go so far as to say, even if for your own sanity, be overly prepared.

  • Know your facts as to exactly what happened; dates, times what exactly you were doing, when & where.
  • Study & know the MTA Rules & Regulations or have a copy with you as those are your rights in that pamphlet.
  • Be prepared to depose the Officer who issued either the ticket or ordered the arrest. Write and rehearse your deposition & if you need it,  get help from someone who has been through this for busking or anything for that matter. Do whatever it takes, but be prepared (as intimidating as this part may seem to read & digest,  trust me, the process will empower you).
  • Dress professionally – especially if you’re being wrongly accused of panhandling as that effort alone not only shows respect for the court, but already visually tosses the charge out the window if you look 100% put together & professional. One other thing dressing professionally accomplishes in my opinion is it allows you, the accused busker to more cleanly represent yourself as you look & hence feel like a ‘different person’ thus putting distance between you, the busker & you representing the busker. Trust me, it makes it a lot easier.
  •  And be respectful of the system even though we all know it’s rigged. The thing is the cops only know one thing ….being a cop. They are, on average not intellectuals. In the system underground their tools are tickets, guns & cuffs. In the courtroom they are without any of these tools. And unless they hire a lawyer to represent them, if you know your stuff and I mean really know your stuff the court can only respect you for that and it makes their job and by association your life a whole lot easier.

Heidi Kole

www.thesubwaydiaries.com

#BuskingRocks

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Heidi Kole on subway crackdown

Update: Commissioner Bratton has responded to the public debate, suggesting that performers ‘find another spot.’ No word on whether Bratton is aware of on-going arrests of law-abiding performers on platforms and mezzanines. 

In a new post at the Subway Diaries, Heidi Kole comments on the results of the crackdown:

” The performers have been moved on, arrested, ticketed & charged with the crime of self expression. It’s a very sad, bleak & lonely place underground since the new police chief, Bratton’s entrance. Every day now when I go under I get either questioned or ticketed or worse. […]

Thee is no music, no dance, no laughter, no art. There is only the loud rumble of metal on metal of screeching brakes interspersed with NYPD announcements over the loud speaker of what to be ‘afraid’ of.

Meanwhile, Bill de Blasio insists that there is no subway crackdown. According to the Observer, he claims that the spike in arrests is “the result of case-by-case decisions by local police commanders, not a larger shift in policy.” Never mind that those police commanders have no training on the MTA performance rules, and never mind their well-documented/counterfactual belief that performance is a crime. Particularly, says de Blasio, never mind that since January, far more untrained police have been in the MTA than ever before. Nope — there’s no crackdown to see here.

So. Whose account do you believe?

Subway Heidi

Photo credit: Heidi Kole

 

 

6th Busker Ball


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Last Thursday was the 6th Busker Ball at Spike Hill, and BuskNY was there to give another report on the state of buskers’ rights in NYC.

Shiloh Levy gave a speech about the recent and planned further increases in enforcement of “quality of life crimes” (which results in increased enforcement of fictional laws as well.) Matthew asked me to check out Union Square a couple weeks ago and I went up and down every line; it was totally silent underground except for a single MUNY performer and a religious pamphlet table. Since then buskers have begun to return, but in smaller numbers, and I haven’t seen a churro vendor anywhere since.

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Meanwhile Kalan, whose recent arrest has prompted some pretty bizarre political commentary as well as the more straightforward news coverage, arranged his equipment and assorted beasts, and ended the presentation with puppetry and balloon music.

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In other news, last night I managed to make it down to open mic night at Goodbye Blue Monday for the first time since the place was saved from shutting down. In addition to coming out to the Busker Ball next time, I encourage everybody to check out GMB on a Tuesday night or whenever you can, and make sure the place doesn’t suddenly evaporate like Pearl Paint.

Is 2014 the end of subway dancing?

Update 4/30: this story has gone around the media in the last 24 hours, and meaningfulpositive coverage is streaming in. Maybe New York loves Showtime — is that why the dancers are still there? Join the debate on Twitter under #WarOnShowtime. BuskNYers, let’s give a voice to performers who are popular, who are iconic, and who most of all do not deserve to be saddled with misdemeanor records.

Since the beginning of the ‘subway crackdown‘ this year, arrests of performers on trains have skyrocketed. Some of these arrests have occurred to musicians, and in one case, even to clowns charged with offering nuts to riders. But the brunt of the arrests have targeted one of the most vulnerable groups in the subway: train dancers.

Official numbers have recently come in, and they are bleak. According to a New York Post report, 46 performers have been arrested. Worse, those performers — all 46 — have been charged not with a violation of the MTA Rules, but with reckless endangerment.

Are these dancers in fact reckless hooligans? Far from it. It’s clear that train performers view their work as positive: they highlight that dancing has given them opportunities for success, and that they engage subway riders with optimism and enthusiasm. What’s more, dancers’ broad support among riders is reflected — even if the MTA pays no heed to this statistic — in the outpouring of contributions they receive. 

Nonetheless, under Bratton’s explicit directions against dancers, the NYPD has taken the shortest route to criminalization. Ignoring MTA guidelines entirely, police have charged all 46 with misdemeanor reckless endangerment rather than an MTA violation, citing the narrow distance between their performance and subway riders.

In light of the NYPD’s close focus on this art form, two questions should be raised. First, why have the police targeted, among all other subway entertainment, the tradition most practiced by young minority men? Is it possible that the crackdown is coming from the “new system where the MTA shares riders’ complaints with the police,” as reported by the Post? The implication is that Bratton’s subway policy is driven, not by a rational understanding of public safety, but by a witchhunt against those performers perceived to be ‘most annoying.’ If those subway riders most likely to file official MTA complaints also happen to be opposed to manifestations of popular culture, it seems that the police won’t hesitate to assuage their worries, even if it means creating 46 criminal records.

Second, what can explain the decision to charge these performers with misdemeanor reckless endangerment? Was it not appropriate to charge them, far more cogently, with a violation of MTA rules? In the stark absence of actual evidence of dancers causing accidents, the highly theoretical choice of reckless endangerment means the NYPD believes this tradition to be so strong that it requires special means. And for once, they’re right. Summonses alone cannot stop one of the longest-running and most emblematic forms of artistic expression in the MTA.

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NYC may diss its train performers often, but it loves them too. That’s why they’re there: they’re popular. That the NYPD has chosen to escalate the fight against artistic performance into a sustained campaign of misdemeanor charges speaks to an attitude that has given up on community policing long ago. And that means the fight isn’t lost yet.