Fun_People Archive
2 Mar
Artists arrested at Metropolitan Museum protest

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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Mon,  2 Mar 98 13:58:48 -0800
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Subject: Artists arrested at Metropolitan Museum protest

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	3/2/98 For Immediate Release:
	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

For information contact:Robert Lederman, President of
A.R.T.I.S.T. (Artists: Response To Illegal State Tactics)
(718) 369-2111
E-Mail: 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
(212) 315-0385

Also see NY Times 3/2/98 Metro section B1; Newsday 3/2/98
pgA7; Village Voice 2/24/98 pg 57
Museum Security Network
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