File spoon-archives/avant-garde.archive/avant-garde_1996/96-11-03.013, message 131

Date: Thu, 31 Oct 1996 23:20:57 -0500
Subject: Re: Art is Speech: Open Letter to N.Y.C. Officials (fwd)

Subj:  Re: Art is Speech: Open Letter to N.Y.C. Officials (fwd)
Date:  Thu, Oct 31, 1996 9:21 AM EST
> Seems to me that street vendors connection to what they sell is personal in
> the sense that they want to eat and pay rent just like artists. I like
> old books, old records, sunglasses, incense, etc. on the street. I don't
> how art can be valorized as the "better commodity". Now if the artists are
> GIVING away their art on the street, that's a different story. 

>>>> (G*rd*n):
>>>>From what I've read, it's settled jurisprudence that speech
is protected whether or not it's a commodity, and that
pictures can be a form of speech.  It's not a generic
philosophical opinion about value, it's a consideration of
what legal category pictures fall into.

What I'm getting at, or trying to, is that there's more than speech that I'm
interested in seeing protected. New York City has a long history of rich
street and subway culture. Vendors, musicians, performers, dancers, visual
artists, booksellers, jewelry crafters, second hand clothes and furniture and
appliances. As well as the posters people create to advertise their events
(bands, readings, etc.) and/or to solicit students or clients (music
teachers, language teachers, house cleaners, moving jobs) or to make social
statements (like the fabulous posters done by the Guerilla Girls).

All of this has come under severe attack by Guliani. To me, it's not just a
generic philosophical opinion. I am a resident of this city and have often
participated in this street and subway culture as a consumer or audience
member and as an artist who creates posters for fun and to publicize my
band's gigs.

Guliani calls it his "quality of life" campaign. But as a citizen who lacks
the finances to have access to commercial outdoor advertising, and as a
citizen who values street and subway culture for the freedom and social
interaction it represents, I think that fighting Guliani on the issue of free
speech does not go near far enough.

If the streets are public spaces, then I should have just as much right to
post my posters, to sell my wares in the public space as those who can afford
billboards. Personally, I find most billboard advertisements intrusive. They
may be built on "private" property. But the  the sight of them invades the
public streets and is inescapable (no V chip for billboards). And billboard
lack the sense of freedom and play that posters have.

There's not much street culture on the Upper Eastside, and walking around up
there is rather boring. Downtown, it's a different story. This street and
subway culture has existed for years, and suddenly Guiliani wants to wipe it
all out and turn everything into the Upper Eastside. I think he'd like to
paint the whole city beige and have us all walk around in beige outfits.

Also, this street culture represents an underground economy that keeps a lot
of people eating and sheltered.  I think this is an important thing to
protect in this age of galloping creeping corporate commerce. So it's not
that I'm against artists selling their creations on the street, I just don't
want it set in mere free speech terms. That would set a precedent for
eliminating other aspects of street culture. 

And I'm not much interested in seeing artists valorized over the rest of
street culture. I guess I'm interested in moving some unsettled jurisprudence
into a more settled category. Avant Garde jurisprudence anyone?

Millie Neon 

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