NYC park officials resume arrests of artists

Tuesday, August 25, 1998

Artists Daniel ...
Artists Daniel Anundsen, left, and Dinko Rokko, right, prepare anti-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani posters outside the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

Despite a recent ruling that found New York City artists don't need permits to sell their works in city parks and on public sidewalks, Department of Parks officials resumed arrests this weekend.

Patrick Christiano — one of three artists to have charges against him dropped by a Manhattan criminal court judge Aug. 12 — was arrested Sunday on charges of failing to obtain a permit.

Thomas Rozinski, general counsel for the Department of Parks and Recreation, said that another artist was arrested on Saturday.

According to New York City art activists, the latest action by the Parks Department flies in the face of Judge Lucy Billings' recent opinion in People v. Balmuth. In that opinion, Billings dismissed criminal charges against three artists — Christiano, Mitchell Balmuth and Gilbert Oh.

Billings wrote that “no license, permit or similar authorization requirement may be imposed on persons displaying or selling written materials, including artwork, in public spaces.”

Billings noted that city law exempts vendors who sell “written matter” from obtaining a permit. She then noted a 1996 decision by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Bery v. City of New York, which found that because the First Amendment protects more than verbal expression, the exception for the sale of “written material” should also cover visual work.

The judge concluded that “defendants here do not express themselves any less or lose any rights to free expression either because they express themselves through visual art or because they seek or receive payment for their artwork.”

Andrew Miltenberg, attorney for noted artist-advocate Robert Lederman, said: “They arrested the artist because of the court's opinion. [Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's] administration seems to do what the court tells them not to do.

Describing Christiano's arrest as a “tactical error” and “frightening,” Miltenberg asked: “What other motivation could they have had other than to react just the way the court said they couldn't? This is ridiculous.”

Miltenberg said that the city officials' actions only strengthen the civil case Lederman v. Giuliani, which he has filed on behalf of Lederman against the mayor and his administration. “It makes our civil suit all that more pertinent,” Miltenberg said.

Lederman, president of a group known as Artists' Response to Illegal State Tactics or A.R.T.I.S.T., said he will lead a demonstration and “sell-in” today in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the site of several arrests of artists in the past.

Rozinski said the Department of Parks has a perfect right to continue enforcing the permit requirement — despite Billings' opinion.

“The fact that one criminal court judge has issued an opinion that says our artist-vendor permit system conflicts with a provision of the city's administrative code based upon a strained reading of that code does not mean that we cannot enforce our permit requirement,” he said.

“We will not cease enforcing what we believe to be a constitutional regulation and we fully intend to litigate this issue before other judges,” Rozinski said.