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Street Performers Upset Over New Central Park 'Quiet Zones'

Monday, May 30, 2011

Street performer John Boyd has been coming to the Bethesda Fountain and to Strawberry Fields in Central Park every weekend for the last four years to sing opera and jazz classics. But if park officials have their way, Boyd and others will no longer be performing there. Last week, the Central Parks Conservancy, which is the official manager of Central Park, posted new "Quiet Zone" signs at the Bethesda Fountain and in Strawberry Fields that explicitly forbid the use of musical instruments and amplification there.

Although park police have been enforcing the new rules, Boyd was singing in the Bethesda Alcove with a trio and an amplifier on Monday. He said he was arrested last Wednesday and that he had racked up thousands of dollars of fines for disobeying the Quiet Zone rules.

“It’s called civil disobedience,” he said. “This is a public space, and they’re violating our free speech. We don’t accept this notion that they [the Central Parks Conservancy] give us permission to express our First Amendment rights. Our rights come from the Constitution.”

The new Quiet Zones extend to the patio surrounding the fountain and the nearby arcade -- a covered stone passageway long coveted by classical musicians for its superb acoustics.

Just a few feet outside of the new Quiet Zone area, Arlen Olson played the hammered dulcimer. Olsen said he had been performing folk music in Central Park for over a decade, and that the new rules were just another phase of escalating tensions between buskers and park officials that had heated up in the past two years.

In 2009, he said the Conservancy attempted to impose a similar ban on playing music near the fountain, only to lift the Quiet Zone restriction a month later.

Olson said he was upset that the ban was back.

“There are plenty of places in the park that are quiet,” he said. “But this is the busiest hub of the park. It seems like a very strange place to pick for ‘quiet reflection.’ It just doesn’t make any sense.” 

Parkgoer and cyclist Baba Tunde said he was on the fence about the new regulations.

“I think we need a balance,” Tunde said. “Acoustic stuff should be allowed, but some people playing loud drums or blasting with amplifiers -- that can be disturbing. Maybe they could do auditions, like in the subways, so you could guarantee a certain caliber of musician playing.”

The city's Department of Parks and Recreation, which retains policy control of Central Park, said the new Quiet Zone policy was enacted in response to public complaints.

"The Quiet Zone here assures the historic area's visitors a chance to stroll, picnic, or go boating without loud sound traveling across the area," said Vickie Karp, a spokesperson for the Parks Department. "Music is welcome by visitors in most sections of the park, but if an area is overwhelmed by musicians, particularly with amplified sound, they can be asked to move."

The Central Parks Conservancy did not return WNYC's call for a comment.

6/2/11 Update: According to the Department of Parks and Recreation, Strawberry Fields has been a Quiet Zone since 1985. Last week marked the first time the parks department posted Quiet Zone signage and enforced the zone rules at Strawberry Fields. There are eight Quiet Zones in Central Park, including Sheep Meadow and the Conservatory Garden.

John Boyd, singer, performing in the Bethesda Arcade despite the new regulations that prohibit playing music there.
Marlon Bishop/WNYC
John Boyd (pictured on left), singer, performing in the Bethesda Arcade despite the new regulations that prohibit playing music there.
The Bethesda Terrace - defined as the area around the Bethesda Fountain, is now a music-free space.
Marlon Bishop/WNYC
The Bethesda Terrace - defined as the area around the Bethesda Fountain, is now a music-free space.
Violinists perform duets in Central Park on Memorial Day.
Marlon Bishop/WNYC
Violinists perform duets in Central Park on Memorial Day.
Strawberry Fields is also now a
Marlon Bishop/WNYC
Strawberry Fields is also now a "Quiet Zone."
Hammered Dulcimer player Arlen Olsen plays just outside of the Bethesda quiet zone.
Marlon Bishop/WNYC
Hammered Dulcimer player Arlen Olsen plays just outside of the Bethesda quiet zone.

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Comments [28]

Elgar from United States

Freedom of speech does actually include the freedom to amplify Sally,everyone has the god given rights to be as loud as they want to or play their music as loud as they want to. Everyone has the freedom to amplify whatever they want.If your tired of the amplified music than go somewhere else.

Jan. 17 2013 07:13 PM
Travis from Utah

People can play music as loud as they want wherever they please!!! Our government is so hipocritical its hilarious. Its your choice to live by a noisy park. There is no limit to volume,The government has no control over that. what a joke.

Jan. 17 2013 06:34 PM
papo from bronx

it so sad that us who play muisc are been look at as if we have commited a crime,there are far more dangerous and law breaking things happening around our city ny which shoud be adress like j walking,drinking,smoking pot,litteing,biker rideing the wrong way & running lights,people hanging out all hours of the nite making noise,i mean can go on and on etc...but the music is a problem? come on now letS get real.

Oct. 02 2012 11:59 AM
Steven Lerner

I wonder what all those who commented re peace and quiet in the park will think when Bethesda Fountain is leased out to commercial interests. The POST reported that a bar was going to open there. Maybe it will be a quiet bar.

Jun. 29 2011 05:15 PM
Crazed from Central Park Band Shell

While I appreciate Danny's attempt to bring some sense of sanity to this situation, let's all try to remember that for the most part people are jerks and will do whatever they want; and the Parks are there for a small piece of peace and not for anyone to use as their personal rent free - tax free stage. With that said, let's look at the 3 items Dan listed.

1: The use of amplification, and/or 'boomboxes', is forbidden in the pursuit of keeping some semblance of competitive sound chaos out of the park environs. It's an invitation of negative attention from the Parks dept. to use these in performance. >>>

Great, but while 1 group may respect the rule there will be 10 more that won't. Besides, I have videos of groups that make far more noise than some boomboxes. It's just not how the noise is delivered BUT THE NOISE ITSELF!

2: The parks officers want musicians to act and respond 'reasonably'. My interpretation of what was told to me is that they want constructive conversation to happen when they request that a musician not play in a quiet zone. >>>>

I have seem several groups actually get right up in the Parks official face telling them that they have a 'right' to play their noise in the Parks. I was even told by a Parks offical that they don't shut the groups down because "THEY ARE AFRAID!"

3: The Parks people want the musicians to share spaces via a rotation schedule (I was told that three hours in one spot was reasonable. No more than four.). >>>

Only trouble for the rest of is, is that 1 group times 5 groups means 20 hours of NONSTOP NOISE AND CROWDS!

Want to perform - go down to those pedestrian malls that the City paid millions for and play for the tourists there. Maybe someone will see you from Broadway and hire you for a legitimate job.

LEAVE OUR PARKS AND LAST PLACE OF REFUGE ALONE!

Jun. 12 2011 06:08 PM
Danny G. from NYC

I am a musician who currently plays in Central Park.

Contrary to what some of the previous comments have suggested, we are not 'beggars' at all; we earn the appreciation of our audiences via extraordinary dedication to craft, years of practice and possess rarefied talent (That some are obviously a bit jealous of).

Back to the article:

As with most debated rule enforcement actions, this one is more complicated than the above article might suggest. There are clues that specific personality clashes and the attempt of wholesale 'ownership' of certain spaces by certain musicians is at the core of the current action.

A Parks officer and I had a candid conversation about the major concerns in this and I was told that:

1: The use of amplification, and/or 'boomboxes', is forbidden in the pursuit of keeping some semblance of competitive sound chaos out of the park environs. It's an invitation of negative attention from the Parks dept. to use these in performance.

2: The parks officers want musicians to act and respond 'reasonably'. My interpretation of what was told to me is that they want constructive conversation to happen when they request that a musician not play in a quiet zone.

3: The Parks people want the musicians to share spaces via a rotation schedule (I was told that three hours in one spot was reasonable. No more than four.).

The 'taking' of particular spots, in the way that Mr Boyd has (He and his band are in the Bethesda Terrace Arcade everyday from 7am-7pm) strikes the parks people as a de-facto 'business' and they feel that without the variety of rotating musicians, frequent park goers are being deprived of the freedom to hear 'something different' even weekly, should they decide that they like the arcade as their place to hang out.

The message seems to be for the musicians to get together and agree on some rules that are self-enforced in an, again, reasonable and unremarkable manner.

Our conversation left me with the impression that there is not a major chasm between what the parks dept want and what the musicians want (Though some horn and louder violin players will disagree as their music was specifically pointed out to me as being 'too loud').

Jun. 12 2011 03:15 PM
Danny G. from NYC

I am a musician who currently plays in Central Park.

Contrary to what some of the previous comments have suggested, we are not 'beggars' at all; we earn the appreciation of our audiences via extraordinary dedication to craft, years of practice and possess rarefied talent (That some are obviously a bit jealous of).

Back to the article:

As with most debated rule enforcement actions, this one is more complicated than the above article might suggest. There are clues that specific personality clashes and the attempt of wholesale 'ownership' of certain spaces by certain musicians is at the core of the current action.

A Parks officer and I had a candid conversation about the major concerns in this and I was told that:

1: The use of amplification, and/or 'boomboxes', is forbidden in the pursuit of keeping some semblance of competitive sound chaos out of the park environs. It's an invitation of negative attention from the Parks dept. to use these in performance.

2: The parks officers want musicians to act and respond 'reasonably'. My interpretation of what was told to me is that they want constructive conversation to happen when they request that a musician not play in a quiet zone.

3: The Parks people want the musicians to share spaces via a rotation schedule (I was told that three hours in one spot was reasonable. No more than four.).

The 'taking' of particular spots, in the way that Mr Boyd has (He and his band are in the Bethesda Terrace Arcade everyday from 7am-7pm) strikes the parks people as a de-facto 'business' and they feel that without the variety of rotating musicians, frequent park goers are being deprived of the freedom to hear 'something different' even weekly, should they decide that they like the arcade as their place to hang out.

The message seems to be for the musicians to get together and agree on some rules that are self-enforced in an, again, reasonable and unremarkable manner.

Our conversation left me with the impression that there is not a major chasm between what the parks dept want and what the musicians want (Though some horn and louder violin players will disagree as their music was specifically pointed out to me as being 'too loud').

Jun. 12 2011 03:14 PM
Crazed from Central Park Band Shell

Hey Chicago,

You don't live here! The noise in the Parks has become unbearable! An issue is, is that if you allow 1 you allow hundreds. Places for of peace are hard to find!

BUT THAT'S THE REAL POINT ISN'T IT? WHY should anyone have to search for a place of peace or have to leave a place to find peace in a PUBLIC Park that was designed for and meant for a place to FIND PEACE & QUIET!

The City spent millions building pedestrian malls on Broadway - let these street annoyances perform there and pay some fees and taxes for the priviledge. Or are they deserving of a public bailout too?

Jun. 09 2011 07:26 AM
Chelsea from Chicago, Illinois

Why on earth should Strawberry Fields be considered a quiet zone? Central Park is huge; it's not hard to find a relatively quiet place (though anyone looking for silence in the middle of NYC is going to be disappointed). Strawberry Fields is supposed to be a tribute to John Lennon ... I seriously doubt he would have wanted people to be deprived of the opportunity to play music there.

Jun. 06 2011 02:31 PM
E

Simple - the city was once a place of freedom and those days are long gone as the city has filled with upper class snobs - please, move back to manhasette and your golf clubs and houses behind walls - this is nyc - the home of art and culture - the city is dead - pathetic

Jun. 05 2011 11:37 PM
Crazed from Central Park Band Shell

Central Park was conceived as a place for the average New Yorker could go and ESCAPE the noise and crowds of City Streets. Central Park was NEVER meant to be a depository of every person that couldn’t get an audition on “America has (no) Talent” or “So You Think You can Dance”!
These street performers question their so-called 1st Amendment Right to do whatever they want in Central Park. I ask, “What about all New Yorkers’ rights to use the park for what it was truly meant for?

Here’s a thought, why not use all those pedestrian walkways down in the theater district? Isn’t that was Broadway was designed for?

Jun. 05 2011 08:31 AM
ian from NYC

musicians have been a part of the fountain for the 50 years I have been going there. All of a sudden they are a problem. No problem for the conservancy taking over the band shell tonight for a fundraiser and blasting music for 4 hours.

Jun. 02 2011 10:26 PM

This is for Rodney aka Mr. "Pays ALOT of taxes in NYC". QUITE ZONE?? Try proof-reading your posts. QUIET zone. I think this is very sad. I love street musicians. I recently spent a weekend in Savannah, GA. The street musicians are a joy. I feel sorry for people who want them to leave Central Park.

Jun. 02 2011 12:11 PM
Raul from New York City

We are turning into a city where the only allowed sounds or sights are bought by corporations. Public space has been privatized to corporate entities, and we have gotten unused to our fellow citizens.

The Central Park Conservancy Mission Statement strives "to improve the quality of open space for the enjoyment of all New Yorkers."

Why can't that include one of the most basic human activities- singing?

I will not allow my city to turn into a place where the only place to hear music is on an iPhone or paid performance. The vitality of New York is based on our interactions.

Jun. 01 2011 03:04 PM
juan kerrinod from nyc baby

this is not cool,

will there naturally therefore be designated loud zones as well?? and areas provided for talented artists. the park musicians police themselves and bad music is moved on. john boyd is a hero.

also we saw an amazing band from england in the park they were the best band ive heard for a long time and the park provided me this chance of a lifetime.

this will deprive the park of one of its nuances, i second the motion for auditioning acts and question whether designated ' louder' zones will also be applied

a saddened juan kerrinod

:(

Jun. 01 2011 01:59 PM
bianca from manhattan

this has been going on for far too long
big crowds in the park...destroying benches ...trampling on the flower beds...whos responsible for policing this?
seems like the parks department and the NYPD is passing the buck..but where does the buck stop? everyones talking about first amendment but mind you these performers are not contributing anything to the park financially and i bet not paying taxes either but yet they have more rights than us...its time to put a stop to this madness..stop with the runaround and just go do what u have to do to stop this noise and chaos

Jun. 01 2011 08:28 AM
Rodney from NEW YORK CITY

YES!!!!!! QUITE ZONE.......

THANK YOU ! they final get it... Again !!!....

IF performers want to perform go to the proper place's like BROADWAY... STAGES in every threatre..
IF I want to see PERFORMERS.(or BANDS ).. THAT'S where I go... NOT the place that was meant for peace and QUITE......

Everyday tons of tourist walk through Central Park and MISS all the HISTORY and BEAUTY of the park, because performer's are making LOUD NOISE and huge (UNSAFE) crowds and also begging for money (BUCKET)

I am glad someone is finally listening to THE PEOPLE who pay ALOT in taxes for Central Park and to the city of New York..

THANK YOU !!!!

Jun. 01 2011 08:16 AM
anonymous from angel tunnel

Oh well....there is always Coney Island.

May. 31 2011 05:48 PM
apppro from Central Park Band Shell

Mike,

what link? I'd be thrilled to sign.

And as to 1st Admendment rights: all i say is "What about mine?" I have to leave because someone is doing something that the Parks were NOT originally intended for? And doing it ALL DAY LONG!

And it's not so much that the occasional individual is playing on a guitar or a harp. The problem has become that LARGE groups of 4 or more - sometimes 12 - are making a LOT of noise, creating crowds, actively soliciting $, not paying permit fees, not paying income taxes either, etc etc. The Band Shell specifically has turned into a 3 ring circus.

It has ALL gotten out of control and the Parks Dept. is directly responsible. The Conservancy has no say in the matter and the police have washed their hands of it.

May. 31 2011 04:10 PM
Mike Lee

Click onto the link below to register your vote against this nonsense. If enough people 'Like' the page we will organize a musical sit-in at the fountain.

May. 31 2011 10:53 AM
Sally Gray from Brooklyn

Freedom of speech does not include freedom to amplify. Amplification creates an uncivil nuisance in parks where some people do come to commune with nature.
Thankfully there is a city-wide ban on amplification without permit in all NYC parks.

May. 31 2011 10:22 AM
Robert from Manhattan

I go to Central Park everyday and I do so to get away from city noise. I like hearing the breeze in the trees and the birds. One person's music is another persons noise. Its appropriate and for there to be quiet zones. I'm glad the city is enforcing this law. Glad the bikers are getting ticketed for riding on the sidewalks too. Smokers should be shamed and run out of town, and charged double for their health insurance. The city is for everyone and consideration of everyone is essential. Its not a matter of old crank people. Karen has issues.

May. 31 2011 09:30 AM
Bill from NYC

The Central Park Conservatory could set reasonable restrictions on volume (like no amplification permitted or a decibel limit) or hours but they insist on a total ban and they refuse to discuss it. They claim that musicians are allowed in other areas, but it seems that they don't want musicians in popular areas. Therefore, it is permissible to play music in the park in areas where people don't gather regularly. Also, if you are a musician who attracts a crowd, they will shut you down for organizing a gathering without a permit. So musicians are welcome in the park as long as nobody is listening to them. There are serious First Amendment problems with the total ban.

May. 31 2011 09:26 AM
funch master from NYC

all those break dances are doing the same sh-it, speak the same tone; wondering if this is the only skill they are born with .... sometime you see their kids also join the battle to snatch coins...

May. 31 2011 09:18 AM
hue from strong island

there was a gentleman who spoke before with a great idea, auditioning performers to as he said "raise the caliber" of artists, so just not anyone is "playing". that would make that experience more enjoyable for everyone...

May. 31 2011 08:16 AM
apppro from Central Park Band Shell

This is not FREE speech. This has become a horrid use of our PUBLIC Parks to be used as a place for FREE rent, FREEDOM from paying income taxes, FREEDOM to activiely in-your-face solicitation of $, FREEDOM to play loud amplified music, FREEDOM to have large unruly crowds of moronic foriegners, etc.

BUT above all these LOUD obnoxious so-called performers have DESTROYED the habitat of the beloved asprey hawks that have tried to survive within the confines of Central Park. This endangered species has only LOST another part of their habitat. I'm sure break-dancers aren't an endangered species - though it would be great if they were extinct.

May. 31 2011 06:57 AM
karen

If you don't want to be bothered, move to the suburbs or stay at home. You can't smoke, and then there's quiet zones? The parks are made for people watching and hanging out. This city is apparently for old, cranky people these days.

May. 31 2011 06:46 AM
Shelly K. from Tudor City

Sure would love to see the gangs of break dancers who aggressively panhandle all over the parks removed:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PX0DR5Im8MM&feature=channel_video_title

May. 31 2011 12:38 AM

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