Despite the issuance of two court orders temporarily restraining the city from enforcing new rules that curtail art vending in four city parks, Department of Parks & Recreation officials have continued to try to enforce them, artists say.
Parks department officials issued court summonses to artists in Union Square and Central Park for allegedly violating the rules on the morning of August 26, the day after State Supreme Court Justice Martin Schoenfeld issued the first restraining order. Later that afternoon, the city rescinded those summonses, according to Elizabeth Thomas, a spokesperson for the city’s Law Department.
But the city’s enforcement efforts allegedly continued at least until Tuesday in Union Square, even after the issuance of a second court order, according to one artist, a woman in her mid-50s who regularly sells paintings and prints there. She asked to remain anonymous due to her involvement in an unrelated legal case. The artist says a group of parks department officials approached her to enforce the rules as she was setting up her display table Tuesday morning. When she told the officials that a judge had just ruled again in the artists’ favor, one of them Googled her assertion for evidence. Eventually, they left her alone, she says.
Thomas did not respond to a request for confirmation of the incident, but says the city now plans to abide by the restraining order. “Everyone is working together to ensure that the temporary restraining order is appropriately enforced,” she says.
The first restraining order expired Monday, but State Supreme Court Justice Milton Tingling decided to extend it until a permanent decision is reached. The court is scheduled to hold a hearing September 17 to determine whether or not to make the injunction against the enforcement of the parks department’s rules permanent. A federal court is scheduled to hear a different case on the temporary restraining order sometime in the next two months.
The new rules took effect July 19 and apply in Union Square, the Highline, Battery Park, and Central Park. They would reduce by 75 percent the number of artists vending in those parks. Parks commissioner Adrian Benepe says that reducing the number of art vendors in parks is necessary because the artists cause “congestion,” but Julie Milner, an attorney representing some of the artists in a federal case, insists that that claim is unsubstantiated.
“The city is trying desperately to get rid of these artists,” says Kevin McGrath, an attorney for some of the artists in the state case. “But the courts have told them, now three times, that they can’t enforce these laws.”
New York artists anxiously await a final decision about the constitutionality of the parks department’s proposed rules. “I understand that they want order,” concedes Talia Dauphna, a 57-year-old New Yorker and artist from Tel Aviv. “But New York without artists is not New York.”