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:

CAM00100

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!

86th St: meet the station agent who has everyone arrested

I got a tip from a performer recently about a problem at 86th and Broadway. He was able to be quite specific about the problem: apparently, the station agent on the weekday afternoon shifts calls police every time she hears music, which has led to a number of arrests.

I made a trip up there today to see what the problem was. The station agent was very forthcoming about having called the police because of music on the platform. I showed her a copy of the rules, which she said she had never seen before. After a careful reading of the section about permitted non-transit activities, she said she now shared my opinion, but that she would still call her supervisor when she heard music. (According to her, station agents are trained to call their supervisors whenever they hear music. Fact or fiction? Maybe FOIL can tell us).

At this point, I asked her to confirm her claim with the Music Under New York office at the MTA. Surprise, she said: she is only able to call her supervisor and no one else. She did, however, agree to “call someone” to “come sort this out.”

After a fifteen minute wait, who arrived but a police officer. I showed her the rules pamphlet and she agreed that I’d be okay playing in the station. (She did ask why I had taken a picture of the station agent’s badge, which is required to be displayed in window of every station booth. Apparently the station agent had complained, in her call to the police, that a member of the public had dared record her badge number. I’m sure the MTA will love to hear that an employee was retaliating for having her badge number recorded.)

The police officer then went into the station booth to speak with the station agent for a few minutes. When she came back out, she had changed her opinion: it’s not okay to play on the platform, she said, but only on the mezzanine and only with a “license.”

I then showed her the pamphlet again, and provided the MUNY phone number so that she could confirm that no license was needed. She was convinced regarding MUNY, but seemed to think that the sections mentioning noise and blocking traffic provided a blanket justification for arresting and jailing any performer who ever performs on 86th St between the hours of 1 and 9 PM.

There was only one thing to do at that point. I pulled out a copy of the settlement notice from my lawsuit and told her that the last police officer to share her opinion cost the City of New York thirty thousand dollars. That made her doubt herself again. She said she would check with her sergeant about the rules, and invited me in to the 59th St precinct to discuss the matter further.

The only problem there? Well, the sergeant in question once threw me out of 59th St for daring to show him a copy of the rules (itself currently the topic of a CCRB investigation). So I doubt that the issue will get a fair hearing — at least, that is, until my two arrests from this summer cause some lawsuits to land at the 59th St doorstep.

And as far as the station agent goes? I’ll be filing a complaint shortly about the badge number reprisal and the harassment of performers. Given that my complaint about harassment at 81st generated a personal phone call and a promise to speak with the employee in question, I have high hopes. 86th St, we’ll bring the music back yet!

Painting Underground: Chris Wright

Compared to musicians, we don’t encounter many visual artists in the New York subway system. Sure, the MTA has done significant work bringing visual art into public spaces, but we rarely see the process: even people sketching strangers on the train in little Moleskine notebooks are a rare sight. So I’m always excited to hear about somebody painting down there:

Chris Wright, the professor at Pratt who taught me how to paint with oils, has been posting pictures on his Tumblr blog of oil paintings he’s done on the G line platforms (as well as just about everywhere else!)

Flushing Avenue G August 16, 2013 (12:00-3:00 pm)

Flushing Avenue G
August 16, 2013 (12:00-3:00 pm)

Classon Avenue G September 7, 2013 (12:00-2:00 pm)

Classon Avenue G
September 7, 2013 (12:00-2:00 pm)

Very exciting to see painting not only on display, but actually being made in the transit network. Clearly, this is something that the public has an interest in protecting. You can see more of Chris Wright’s work at his web site, chriswrightpaintings.com.

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!

 

7/28: What I learned yesterday

Yesterday brought us an article in Gothamist, a flurry of discussion on Twitter and Facebook, and thousands of views between here and YouTube. Here’s what I learned:

1. New Yorkers love their music, and they want their musicians protected. Response to the story was overwhelmingly supportive and affirmative of the power and importance of public music.

2. New Yorkers have seen musicians harassed and arrested. I read through a lot of comments, and let me tell you, I’m not the first musician that these readers have seen escorted out of a station. Why doesn’t that news spread? Because there’s no central forum to share it — and we’re working to change that.

3. New Yorkers love their music — but they don’t always know it’s legal. Many comments from supporters still expressed unsureness or confusion about the rules. And that haziness in the public consciousness translates into a haziness in police practice, which results in harassment, summonses, and arrests. Let’s fix that: New York, Music is Legal!

Busking log 11/07: flash mob contra at Grand Central

Today brought two new examples of the diversity and the high quality of the arts performed in the NYC transit system. (I suppose I’m preaching to the choir here — but it never hurts to remind ourselves of how broad this community is!)

  1. I had the chance to perform for a contra dance in Grand Central Station’s Vanderbilt Hall. Can’t beat the location! It was organized by local dancer as a “flash mob” event. The band and dancers were sauntering about incognito, then quickly lined up for a dance, and were gone again as soon as it ended. (Video will come soon). Passers-by greatly enjoyed the show, and although police did arrive to stop the dance, they were persuaded to hold off for a few minutes until it ended. Thanks, officers, for letting the music continue.
  2. In the 14th St tunnel from 7th to 6th Ave, Milo and I happened upon a truly, truly outstanding cellist. Of course, more than a few people perform the cello suites underground, some for practice, and some for art. But not all of them are, like this guy, Eastman School of Music graduates, and very few of them can light up a tunnel like this. Thanks, Wayne. Keep it up, and we’ll see you around!