Save Buskers in Washington Square Park

Save Buskers in Washington Square Park

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Street of Sound started this petition to Margaret Chin and

We write this petition to ask you to show your support for street performers in New York City who have been disturbed by rangers at Washington Square Park.

New York has a history of making busking difficult and even illegal, as it was between 1936 and 1970. Compared to the last century, things are much easier for buskers now. Many performers, however, can tell countless stories of run-ins between buskers and police. We demand for the guidelines and laws around performing in public space to be clearer and amended to respect buskers’ rights.

Kanami Kusajima, known as Let Hair Down, is a dancer who performs at Washington Square Park daily and has been harassed multiple times by park rangers. Her dance performances are loved and appreciated by local people of the community, and have healed many people during the hard times we have all faced amidst the pandemic. We have seen her share her art literally every day, no matter the weather, even throughout the long winter. You can find her dancing in the snow or in the rain, expressing herself freely and inspiring people. 

However, Kanami has been disturbed by park rangers of Washington Square Park, who insist that Kanami’s small sound speaker is an “amplifier,” which requires people to get a “special event permission” that costs $25 and is only for one-day events. This is not for everyday performances, and is definitely not a viable option for Kanami, a busker who makes a living from sharing her daily performances in public space. 

Buskers make tips that are taxable income, and yet are being demanded to pay $70 in permits daily to legally do their job. Kanami performs 6 days a week, which would equate to $420 a week to perform “legally” with permits, meaning she would have to pay $1,680 a month just to be able to perform and share her art in the park.

It should be noted that Kanami has spoken to the police officers, who patrolled the park under the arch until recently, and were right in front of her performance. The police officers made it clear that they didn’t think her small speaker qualified as an “amplifier” and should be okay for her to use, as the sound is not loud enough to disturb people at the park.

Even so, they also told her that the rangers of the park are the ones who regulate the rules in the park, so the rangers could give her a ticket or summons if they decided to do so. 

Our Two Demands to NYC Parks & Recreation are:

Demand #1: 
There should be a special buskers permit that does not put a financial burden on buskers on a daily basis and is different from the “special event permit” which is only meant for one day events.

Demand #2: 
The law should have a standard determining the type of sound device that is legal to use and the level of dBs that are legally permitted. The law should also specify between the time periods when said devices are allowed to be used, and differentiate between daytime and nighttime. Kanami usually performs sometime from 1pm to 6pm, which should be an allowed time frame to be performing in public space.

We ask you, Margaret Chin, the council member responsible for Washington Square Park in District 1 and the whole NYC Parks & Recreation, to amend the laws regarding the Special Event Permit and the Sound Device Permit to allow buskers to share their art in public space without being fined for doing so and being subject to laws that can be interpreted by rangers subjectively.

The Article 27 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community, either alone or in collaboration with others. This right is not being respected by the park rangers at Washington Square Park.

Washington Square Park has a long history of street performers who have kept New York City alive by sharing their art over the years. This petition is not only meant to support Kanami but buskers and street performers as a whole, who are being harassed and fined daily for sharing their art. Why are we turning our backs on street musicians and performers now?

This petition has been organized by Street of Sound and Let Hair Down (Kanami Kusajima). Please follow us at @streetofsound on Instagram and check out our Youtube Channel to see more of our work.

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At 5,000 signatures, this petition is more likely to get picked up by local news!