Subway sweeps: Bratton announces clampdown

Update March 7th: The New York Times has just run a story reporting that arrests for peddling and panhandling in January and February 2014 have tripled from the same period 2013. As subway performers are often charged for these offenses, that means members of our community have likely already been affected. Please be careful out there: be extra certain to photograph the location you are performing, the level of traffic, the absence of CDs for sale. 

From Capital New York, via A.R.T.I.S.T.:

Bill Bratton, who famously did his first stint as NYPD commissioner under Rudy Giuliani, wants to make sure beggars and “squeegee pests” don’t return. 

To that end, Bratton said this morning, he is planning to go on a series of late-night subway rides next week. The rides will be “in the early morning hours just to get a first hand look of what the city looks like from midnight to four in the morning.”

It’s hard to see this as good news. Bratton is coming out strong for the kind of ‘quality of life’ policing that specializes in wrongful or senseless arrests. And there’s a special focus on the subways, Bratton says:

“We will be focusing on ensuring that aggressive begging and squeegee pests, all of those actives that create fear and destroy neighborhoods, graffiti, all of those seemingly minor things that was so much in evidence in the 80s and early 90s here don’t have the chance to come back.”

To ensure that, Bratton said [Broken Windows theory creator and newly hired NYPD consultant George Kelling] “is going to be focusing on look at parks, public spaces, and the subways.”

What does this mean? Almost certainly that there will be more police underground, and that they will be under pressure to make arrests.

But it doesn’t mean that these officers have received training for quality of life policing. Existing evidence shows that many NYPD officers believe subway performance to be illegal, and that mistaken belief leads to some serious mistakes.

Certainly, no one imagines that one of Bratton’s first moves has been to finally train officers on the laws regarding music, and that means he’s creating a hazard. As Robert Lederman of A.R.T.I.S.T. puts it, “This is exactly how the artist arrests began in 1994 when Bill Bratton became NYPD Commissioner for the first time.”

We’ll soon find out if ‘quality of life’ policing means illegally arresting performers. Stay tuned out there, and stay safe.

Fifth Busker Ball

Theo Eastwind suggested we sell the leftover “Music is Legal!” t-shirts at the 5th Busker Ball last Thursday at Spike Hill so I went to set up a merchandise table and took a lot of blurry shots of the show. We even got one of our shirts pinned up to the curtain with Blueberry Season pins.

photo taken by Shiloh Levy

photo by Shiloh Levy


It was a great show! I encourage anybody who missed it to come to the next Busker Ball on April 24th– and ask Theo about getting involved if you want to perform.


BUSKERBALL 036


BUSKERBALL 038Shiloh and Heth talking about BuskNY

Shiloh Levy gave a presentation about buskers’ rights explaining what BuskNY is all about, followed by Heth of Heth and Jed who discussed his recent legal victory. I gave the last ten or so shirts to Arthur and Shiloh to distribute, so now I have room for the 2014 shirts. We learned a lot about what people want in a shirt from the first run, so I’m planning on doing something a little more complicated, and with a more inclusive message. There may be another Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for materials and equipment. I’ll keep you updated!

The New Museum looks for buskers

Update: the New Museum says performers concerned about the cold will have some flexibility, including the possibility to play inside. That might be more encouraging for some of us!

We recently received this invitation from a representative of the New Museum:

In connection with an upcoming exhibition, the Polish artist Pawel Althamer will invite street musicians (or musicians who are also playing on the street) to come and play in front of the museum in the museum’s opening hours during the period 12 February – 20 April, 2014.

It is the hope that we can gather a really large and amazing group of musicians representing the diversity of street performance in New York and in this time create a platform and tribute to these musicians. For this engagement we are offering a fee of $15 per hour. (We wish we could pay more, but being a non-profit organization we unfortunately always have a limited budget).

Some information about the exhibition is available here. As I understand, part of the concept is to channel live audio from the performers onto the third floor of the museum. It sounds promising, and I hope a few of us will risk the cold weather to be there. The New Museum representative has invited us to contact her directly.

Fourth Busker Ball at Spike Hill

This Wednesday I attended the fourth Busker Ball at Williamsburg bar Spike Hill, an event organized by Theo Eastwind that features performances by New York City buskers. Arthur Medrano and Shiloh Levy performed wearing their BuskNY “Music is Legal!” t-shirts.

Shiloh and Arthur at the 4th Busker Ball

Shiloh and Arthur

Ken Ruan went on second, and has also given me permission to use his photo here. Since I don’t have any training as a photographer, I considered myself pretty lucky to get some shots of everybody that weren’t totally blurry.

Ken Ruan

Ken Ruan

Great performances by everyone involved. Jess Goular at BreakThru Radio has written a more detailed article about the event,

We hope to see you at the next Busker Ball on January 23, 2014.

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.

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!

Zoom Balloons in the 14th Street Sixth Avenue Tunnel

On our way back from Harlem, Matthew and I stopped to pick up some cheese at the Westside Market on 14th St. and ran into balloon sculptor Zoom in the tunnel. We had met Zoom a few times before, and in fact still have a gift from him, one of his heart flower balloons, slowly shriveling on top of a dresser.

This time, we got this great balloon clown. Everyone was jealous of it. Or terrified. It was hard to tell.

Matthew and Zoom

Matthew and Zoom

Nothing seems to lower Matthew’s inhibitions quite like holding a silly prop does.  Enjoying the reactions of strangers to the balloon man, he asked our train neighbor what we should name it.

He responded, “Charlie Sheen.”

Matthew and Charlie Sheen

Charlie and Matthew reflected in the train window

Zoom’s web site at http://www.zoomballoons.com/ appears to be down, but I found an article about him on the blog Manalapan Patch. If you’re in the tunnel between the L and the 1 on the 14th St Sixth Avenue station, check out his work!

 

Cheerios, and how I was depicted

I’ve gotten out of the habit of posting busking updates — there aren’t enough hours in the day sometimes! But today saw a couple things that I can’t avoid sharing.

1. At Hunter College, one man bent over to put a dollar in my case while carrying a baby. The baby was carrying a bag of cheerios, and, in the spirit of charity, decided to pour ALL OF THEM INTO MY CASE. In other news, I still had a great day out — apparently busking while surrounded by cheerios doesn’t hurt your earnings too badly.

2. On the Union Square L platform, I ran into Larry and Sonia Wright drumming. (You should click that link by the way — the video will move anyone who’s seen him play). Just down the platform from them was a guy drawing portraits of riders. And right around him were Larry Wright’s sons, waiting to get on the train and dance.

Needless to say, I got my portrait done, there on the platform, surrounded by Larry Wright’s kids and by the sound of bucket drumming. It felt like home.

busking picture

8/21: Big city bubbles

Update 8/22: David Everitt-Carlson reminds us of the consequences of the recent changes to NYC Parks rules:

“If he’s taking donations the Parks Dept. now considers that illegal in [Central Park], Union Square, The High Line and Battery and could summons him – unless he’s on a medallion and using a 3′X8′ table with nothing else on the ground.”

When you ban public art, you are banning this man and his bubbles. Bet you feel accomplished right now, rule-writers.

Original post: Popped up for air at Union Square with Milo this week, and who was there but this guy:

Bubble picture

I’ll be darned if those bubbles weren’t the most beautiful thing I’ve seen all week. And do you ever see New Yorkers smile like that?

8/20: How I was(n’t) robbed

Today was toasty below-ground, but I had an excellent day out. (And that’s welcome news, given my struggles early this summer. I’ve been having a blast ever since the week of vacation, so clearly things have taken a turn for the better!)

Speaking of ups and downs, here’s a story from today. After a fun and well-paid hour at 86th St, I played on the 53rd St EM platform, which was one of the first places I ever played at the beginning of last summer. It’s a great spot, and I had a blast playing for a very supportive audience. (At one point, I lost a few dollars to the infamous 53rd St wind tunnel — and lo and behold, a guy came up with a big grin and a $5 bill to console me. My hero!)

I finally fixed the wind problem by closing my case and setting it behind me, then opening up my messenger bag on top of the case to accrue donations. That also gave me added protection against the insidious “blocking traffic” charge by consolidating things behind me:

53rd st case

The only downside was that listeners had to go behind me to deposit their money. But hey: though I’ve had my share of bad train service, angry police, unidentifiable dripping gunk, and worse things in the MTA, I’ve never had a reason to mistrust the wonderful people who ride the trains.

After about forty-five minutes, I needed a break and turned over the spot to a duo of drummers. I counted up my lucre in the train and very pleased. But I went to put it in my messenger bag, I found the pocket open. And the money I had made at 86th was no place!

Once I had looked through the bag, I decided that the money wasn’t a big problem. I still had the tips from 53rd anyway, and I had time for another hour or two later on in the afternoon anyway. But what did bother me was the loss of trust in the riders. Sure, I don’t always love ’em, especially when they don’t give. But from the bottom of my heart, I think city folks are good people — and so this was a bummer!

Anyway, turns out there’s not much of a dramatic ending to this story. I had just put my 86th St earnings in a pocket that I usually overlook, and so there they were. (I was happy as a clam, needless to say.)

So thanks, NYC, for being just as good as I’ve always thought you are. That’s saying a lot!