Board 2 chimes in against ban on buskers in Washington Square

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Colin Huggins playing piano under the Washington Square Arch in September 2010.
BY ALBERT AMATEAU  |  After being wowed by a brief piano interlude, Community Board 2 last week passed a resolution roundly condemning the Department of Parks’ recent policy of slapping summonses on musicians and other performers in Washington Square Park.

The resolution passed without opposition at the Thurs., Jan. 20, full board meeting where Colin Huggins, a.k.a. “The Crazy Piano Guy,” was one of the performers who spoke about the summonses they received in September and October while busking in the same park where the likes of Bob Dylan, Judy Collins and Joan Baez held forth 50 years ago.

“Play something,” shouted people in the Thursday audience at P.S. 41. Brad Hoylman, C.B. 2 chairperson, made the invitation official and Huggins sat at the auditorium piano and played some of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” The audience gave him a standing ovation.

After a public outcry at a December speak-out hosted by C.B. 2, Parks officials told the community board members that the department was suspending and re-evaluating the Washington Square Park enforcement policy.

Parks had adopted strict rules last year to regulate the sale of art and other First Amendment-protected matter, saying the numbers of such vendors conflicted with public enjoyment in several Manhattan parks. The rules also prohibited performers within 5 feet of any bench and within 50 feet of a monument, in order to keep paths open and preserve views of park monuments, according to Parks.

In Washington Square Park, with bench-lined paths and an array of monuments — including the arch, fountain and statues of Giuseppe Garibaldi and Lyman Holley — the rules appear to preclude performers.

The board resolution says that when the new rules were first presented to C.B. 2 there was no indication that they would target performers. Nevertheless, the board last year voted against the rules, saying they were unnecessary and overly restrictive.

The Jan. 19 resolution expressed the board’s “consternation” regarding the issuance of summonses to performers and asked dismissal of summonses already issued.

The board also wants a statement of the Parks Department’s future enforcement initiatives or other restrictions pertaining to performers or other expressive activities in parks in Community Board 2’s district (14th St. to Canal St. east of Fourth Ave./Bowery).