Saturday, May 15, 2010

Investigation: A day in the life of a NYC park artist

by Leslie Koch
Originally published in the NY Destinations column on, May 13, 2010

Artists continue to sell their work in Union Square Park as they wait for a Parks Department decision on a controversial vending proposal.

The Parks Department plan would cut the number of art vendors by roughly 75% in four popular Manhattan parks. In Union Square Park, about 100 vendors would compete for 18 spots.

Major news outlets covered this story, but did not dive deeply into the lives of park artists.

Readers have asked me for more information on the park vendors. The most common question: are they "real" artists or souvenir sellers?

A day in the park

To find out more about the park artists, I arrived in Union Square Park before dawn on a brisk April morning and spent seven hours shadowing Brooklyn photographer Mike Murray.

I spoke with over a dozen artists and vendors, who graciously invited me into their world.

My day in the park resulted in a New York Press cover story: "The Secret World of Park Artists."

Read my inside look at the lives of park artists on the New York Press website or pick up a free copy of the May 12- 18 issue on New York City sidewalks.

>> Photo caption: "The Secret World of Park Artists" is the cover story of the May 12-18, 2010 issue of the New York Press. Union Square Park artist Kenny Kudulis appears in the cover photo. 

Parks Department mum on plans

The Parks Department has remained silent on its proposal since the public hearing and protest on April 23.
Hundreds of artists attended the protest and many spoke at the public hearing.

TV crews and print reporters covered the event, increasing public awareness of the Parks Department proposal.

"I'm guessing they won't pass it," said Robert Lederman, president of ARTIST (Artists' Response To Illegal State Tactics), in an email on Wednesday.

"There is a risk that a ruling and all the evidence we have might negatively affect their concession-privatization agenda."

Lederman believes the Parks Department is trying to replace artist vendors-- who are not legally required to pay for permits because they sell "expressive" materials-- with more lucrative concessions.

If the Parks Department proposal is passed, ARTIST members will resist.

"We'll do as promised, refuse to obey, keep selling and then sue the city," said Lederman.
As of press time, the Parks Department has not revealed their plans for the expressive matter vending proposal.

>> For more info: Read the New York Press feature, "The Secret World of Park Artists" or click on the article links below.

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