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Artists Arrested During Protest Outside
Metropolitan Museum Of Art
More than fifty police officers from numerous Manhattan
Precincts and a large contingent of Parks Enforcement officers
were called into action yesterday as the Parks Department
attempted day one of enforcing an artist permit system in front
of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Members of A.R.T.I.S.T.
(Artists’ Response To Illegal State Tactics) set up their art
displays in defiance of a block long police barrier and began a
protest that lasted from eight A.M. until six P.M.
By nine A.M. the police had begun confiscating original art,
stuffing it into black plastic garbage bags and issuing
summonses ranging from two hundred to one thousand dollars
to the artists. More than 100 works of art were confiscated from the sixteen
artists who received summonses. Works of art were ripped out of artists’ hands
and torn out of closed portfolios and displays by Parks Enforcement officers
and uniformed police.
The police arrived on the scene in N.Y.P.D. vans at least one of which bore
the logo, Donated by The Central Park Conservancy.
The confiscations and summonses arbitrarily stopped as soon as
two television news crews and four newspaper reporters arrived
on the scene at 10 A.M.
The artists, many of whom are immigrants and political refugees
from China, the former Soviet Union and various Latin
American dictatorships, made speeches in their native languages
about freedom of expression, describing it as the main reason
they came to America. The police were verbally confronted by
numerous local residents and visitors to the museum including a
German tourist who likened the police action to those of the
Gestapo in Nazi Germany.
A.R.T.I.S.T. President Robert Lederman was arrested after he
used a piece of chalk to write, Giuliani=Police State and God
Bless America on the sidewalk in front of the police barricades.
As the police attempted to drag Lederman across Fifth Avenue
to a waiting police car approximately 100 artists surged over the
barricades and swarmed around the police. As Lederman, 47
was handcuffed and forced into the car artists surrounded the
police car and began chanting, let him go. Other artists laid
down in front of the car and prevented it from leaving. After a
few minutes the police unhandcuffed Lederman on the condition
that he calm the angry crowd. Lederman then asked the artists if they were
willing to give up their rights to which they loudly responded no. Lederman
led the artists back across Fifth Avenue and into the barricades where they
began chanting Artist Power. Four police and Parks Enforcement officers then
re-arrested Lederman and charged him with inciting a riot,
unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct. One other protester,
Antonio La Russia 27, an employee of the museum, was
charged along with Lederman with defacement of property with
chalk. Two artists, Mitchell Balmuth, 51 and Aki Davis were
charged with disorderly conduct and inciting a riot.
Lederman says the Parks Department is acting in contempt of
court, referring to a 1996 Federal Court ruling which said that
based on the First Amendment’s protection of speech, artists
need no license or permit to create, display or sell paintings,
photographs, limited edition prints or sculptures on public
property. The Parks Department was a named defendant in the
case along with Mayor Giuliani and the N.Y.P.D.
Parks Department Commissioner Henry Stern is quoted in a
2/26/98 Newsday article as saying that, “These are extremely
valuable spaces, and people who sell hot dogs there pay
$150,000 a year for the privilege and may not like having to set up next to an
artist who is there for free.” Lederman calls that the main issue. “It’s a
matter of $150,000 to sell hot dogs vs.free speech.”
The Metropolitan Museum’s President, William Leurs and
Director, Phillipe de Montebello issued a joint statement last
Friday distancing themselves from the Parks Departments’
policy while declining to take any action to prevent what they
described as the planned arrests and confiscations of art. On
Friday police officers went into the museum for twenty minutes
and then arrested Lederman for writing Stop Harassing Artists
with chalk on the sidewalk in front of the museum.
On Sunday, as soon as the art confiscations began, artists began handing out
leaflets with a penny taped to it, advising museum goers that the Met didn’t
care about artists and that to support their protest visitors should pay only
one cent admission. The Met receives City funds and is located on City
property, making their suggested eight dollar admission voluntary, and
admission possible for as little as one cent.
More than 5,000 of the leaflets
were distributed on Sunday in what the artists promise to be an
ongoing protest. The Metropolitan Museum was the only major
New York City art museum that refused to support the artists in
their lawsuit. According to Lederman the museum has so far
also refused to issue a statement supporting artists’ First
Amendment rights on public property or the decision in their
Federal lawsuit, granting them full First Amendment protection.
For information contact:Robert Lederman, President of
A.R.T.I.S.T. (Artists: Response To Illegal State Tactics)
Read the 2nd circuit ruling at our web site:
Parks Commissioner Henry J. Stern (212) 360-1305, Thomas
Rozinski, General Counsel Parks Department (212) 360-1314
William Leurs, President Metropolitan Museum of Art (212)
570-3900, Ashton Hawkins, Legal Counsel Metropolitan
Museum of Art (212) 570-3936, Central Park Conservancy
Also see NY Times 3/2/98 Metro section B1; Newsday 3/2/98
pg.A7; Village Voice 2/24/98 pg. 57