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.

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8/5: State of the busk

I’m taking off tomorrow morning for a week in Vermont. So, it’s a good moment to look at what we’ve done and learned so far this summer:

  1. We’ve gotten the website and associated Twitter and Facebook pages up and running, with decent visibility and traffic. Also, one of our videos currently stands at 7,641 views, which I think is pretty great. One of our original goals was to establish a web presence for practical legal information about busking arrests — so we’re making good progress there.
  2. The “Music is Legal!” shirts have been printed, and we’ve distributed about 20 so far. They look great, and we’re happy to see ’em in the subway.
  3. Our mailing list is expanding fast. We hope not to use it often, apart from a couple reminders about the possibility of lawsuits. But if and when rules changes are proposed at the MTA, it’ll be the subway arts’ weapon for organization. Si vis pacem, para bellum!
  4. Our harassment database has also grown to over 20 incidents. Not bad, considering it came into being two weeks ago — but also not good, if you believe that subway artists shouldn’t be being illegally harassed. But in any case, the problem is starting to be documented on a broader scale than it has been before, and that may be a solution in the making.
  5. We’ve started to develop strategies for protecting performers proactively, including visibly displaying rules pamphlets and tracking police incidents back to misinformation with station managers. Big hopes for the future on this front…

One other thing: through a lot of conversations in the last few weeks, I’ve heard how hard it’s been for many performers because of wrongful harassment. I’m still the only one I know who’s been hit by a cop for playing the violin — but I’m not the only one who’s been harassed, or hurt, or chased out, or yelled out, or arrested. This is not a non-issue, folks, and we’re going to hit back as hard as we can.

And, a couple goals for the future:

  1. More lawsuits. With the harassment database growing and the news that you can sue for a wrongful summons, this is the time to take a bite out of the NYPD for its failure to train its officers on the laws of New York City. We’ll be psyched to see some notices of claim filed soon!
  2. More community involvement here. Given the basis we’ve established so far and the importance of public performance to the NYC arts scene, we think an organization in this role can be productive in the long term in this city. We’d like to start taking steps to make this more sustainable — and that includes getting friends and peers writing here and involved in planning and decision-making. More on this to come soon!

My 7 AM Megabus beckons, so that’s all for now. I’ll be enjoying a break from the blog for the week — but based on what we’ve heard and done so far, I’ll be looking forward to getting back to work just as much. See you soon, New York!

8/3: Parrots, buckets, and my burgeoning love for the NYPD

Today, Milo and I spent a few hours doing outreach. What I’m learning is that community organizing is a bit-by-bit process: every day brings a few new conversations, a few more names on the mailing list, and a few more t-shirts out in the world. That may sound romantic — but is it ever slow-going as well.

Still, we’re building something important. Today at 14th St, we saw a large green parrot on someone’s shoulder on the platform — and we also ran into Don the bucket drummer, playing a Kikkoman soy sauce bucket like the world was about to end:

Don

A couple hours later, we ran into a cellist who had already seen Don in his shirt. So, we know that word’s spreading!

I also busked for about an hour and a half, in two different stations, with Milo taking some pictures. I learned that I have an incredible ability to make weird faces while playing:

Peek!

Would you tip a guy who looks like that?

Anyway, one more story from today. When we arrived at the 59th St 6 station, we saw a police officer across the platform. Like I mentioned in the last post, I’m feeling a bit tired of going to jail for music — but ever hopeful for the best, I unpacked and asked Milo to take video if she came over.

Indeed, she came by within five minutes and asked if I had a permit. “What permit?,” I asked. “Have you ever seen one?” “No,” she said, a bit sheepishly, “although you do see those banners.” I then showed her my rules, and after taking a careful look, she had this to say:

“Thanks for showing me this. Now I know.”

Now there’s a hopeful sign indeed. (If only — if only — but if ONLY the NYPD offered training on this!)

Printing the “Music is Legal!” shirts

The shirts arrived Thursday evening, and since I only had two days available to print them before losing access to my studio space (and I’m spending Sunday helping to install my show at the Painting Center), we had to rush to get them done.

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135 t-shirts

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Printing the first shirt.

With only two people, it took seven or eight hours to finish the front side of all 135 shirts.

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We started with the pink shirts.

My cousin Zeke took a detour into the city on his way up the Appalachian Trail, and he offered to help us print the backs. With his help, we finished them in four hours.

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And he bought us food!

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The print shop’s mustachioed Pratt Cat, who is most often found sleeping in the paper guillotine’s scrap bin, visited us in the silkscreen lab.

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About half of the finished shirts.

Matthew and Kalan will start distributing them to subway performers this week. Remember: Music is Legal!

13/07: Kickstarter

Hi all! It’s time to FUNDRAISE. Here’s why:

Performers have been in the MTA for over a hundred years, and have been legal since 1985.

But many station managers, police officers, and passers-by don’t know that we’re legal. Consequently, of the hundred-odd performers I’ve talked to, almost everyone has been made to leave a station by police, and more than a few have been handcuffed and taken away — for playing music!

We believe one of the best ways to address this is by getting the word out there: Music is Legal! But how do you communicate that information to five million daily riders, thousands of police, and hundreds of station managers?

Well, fortunately, there are hundreds of us. So here’s our idea: we make t-shirts like this one:

IMG_0167Then we give one to every performer, for free, and ask them to play once a week with the shirt. We’re sure it’ll reach millions of MTA riders. Can you imagine a subway where police and station managers celebrate music? We think it’s possible.

Do you want to help make this a reality? Go to our Kickstarter project, “Music is Legal!,” and make a pledge. When we meet our funding goal, we’ll make 100 of these shirts — and you’ll receive one as a reward.

And please: help spread the word by linking to the project or to this post.  Have a question or a suggestion? Contact us!

Busking log 7/05: The Passion According to G.H.

Today was a great day for busking. A bit hot, but that didn’t stop me from making the princely (relatively speaking!) sum of $98 in the afternoon.

Oh, and look what else I received: a novel by the highly-acclaimed Brazilian novelist Clarice Lispector.

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It appeared in my case on the 86th St express platform. Curious! I didn’t see the donor, but he or she must have excellent taste in literature. I’m looking forward to reading it soon.

Tomorrow I’ll be helping Milo screen-print our sample run of seven “Music is Legal!” t-shirts. Stay tuned for photos!