By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Stephen Baird on Menino’s crackdown

Musician Stephen Baird, the founder of Street Arts and Buskers Advocates, offers more details on Mayor Tom Menino’s crackdown at Faneuil Hall. In an e-mail to Media Nation, Baird notes that the steel fence erected by city and federal officials blocks the Freedom Trail, something the irony-deprived mayor no doubt fails to appreciate.

I reproduce Baird’s e-mail (which I have lightly edited) with his permission:

The City of Boston and National Park Service put a fence around one of the premier symbols of freedom in America — Faneuil Hall. The fence actually blocks the Freedom Trail. This was done to disenfranchise the civil rights of street artists and the general public who freely choose to peaceably assemble and support them. The fence is a blight not only on the city, but the country. The fence, similar to the old Berlin Wall, is a symbol of Mayor Thomas Menino’s and other government officials’ failure to develop intelligent and equitable public policies and regulations.

There was no warning or public process before this crackdown. Portrait artists, living statues and street performers were suddenly told they could no longer exercise their First Amendment artistic expression in this public park by the police. There are no written guidelines or laws, just the arbitrary whim of the police officers and government officials of where people can perform and audiences can gather.

These actions are all being done in direct defiance of stipulation by Boston city attorneys in the federal court case Community Arts Advocates Inc. v. City of Boston et al. (December 2004), where they stated artists would not be stopped from exercising their First Amendment expression in Sam Adams Park.


I sued the City of Boston 2004-2006 over arrests and threats of arrest in Boston Common, Downtown Crossing, Copley Square and Sam Adams Park.

The city repealed old Police Rule 75 (from 1850s) and a new law (403) that was just as bad on December 23, 2004, in front of Federal Judge Nancy Gertner. I was threatened with arrest in Sam Adams Park while conducting an interview with Boston Phoenix about this court case. See photograph and details.

I argued that the city could not allow Faneuil Hall audition artists to use Sam Adams Park and not allow other artists. And I won.

I proposed an ordinance similar to the Cambridge ordinance, but the city stated it would use other laws, including the noise ordinance, to control performances. The police have since failed to monitor sound levels with decibel meters. (Sound is also supposed to be inaudible at 100 feet, which could control bucket drummers). The city cannot control performance location issues with out doing drastic, heavy handed and unconstitutional ad hoc use of other laws. See the front page Boston Globe story by Donovan Slack on Aug. 1, 2008.

The City of Boston put chairs and tables in the primary performance area in Sam Adams Park, which pushed artists next to the restaurant that caused the current complaints.

The closing of Filene’s and construction of Downtown Crossing has pushed many artists to Sam Adams Park. There are many conflicts of space, sound and other issues between artists. Artists — Balloon, Living Statues, Portrait Sketch, Bucket Drums — started to set up on north side of Faneuil Hall facing Quincy Market, which has curtailed and caused major tensions with Quincy Market artists.

As long as the city fails to set up performance location guidelines, a lottery system to share the performance locations/time and enforce the noise ordinance consistently/fairly (the police and firemen union picket demonstration were 10 times louder then any performers at Sam Adams Park), then the situation will flare up with arrogant abuse of power that is both mean-spirited and unconstitutional.

I suspect the only way I will be able to bring any measure of equity to this situation is through the federal court.

Stephen H. Baird
Street Arts and Buskers Advocates
Community Arts Advocates Inc.
P.O. Box 300112
Jamaica Plain, MA 02130
E-mail: info {at} BuskersAdvocates {dot} org

Cultivating ongoing fundamental relationships between artists and communities by celebrating self-expression as a basic human right essential for the healthy growth of youth, individuals and communities.

Menino’s last tangle with Baird resulted in His Honor’s receiving a 2005 Phoenix Muzzle Award. It looks like he’s well on his way to winning another one.

Photo courtesy of Stephen Baird.

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  1. Rick

    Get rid of all these “street performers” and “subway performers”from Boston and ship them out to Middleborough. We will take the casino if they promise to keep the hippies. ; )

  2. Pierce

    “hippies”? Are you 70 years old or something?

  3. Rick

    yes I’m 70, or maybe i’m not.It was a friggin joke lighten up

  4. Mark

    Baird needs to lighten up slightly.It’s a four foot tall fence – not the Berlin Wall…Street performers are annoying anyway.

  5. Bruce

    Leave it to Tom “What Bill of Rights?” Menino to barricade the Freedom Trail.Great post.If ever there was a golden opportunity for a little civil disobedience, this is it.

  6. essteess

    >Street performers are annoying anywayThat's painting with a rather large brush. Sure, I've encountered some performers who are too loud, too in-your-face for comfort; but there are plenty of others who among other things play exquisite music, quietly and unobtrusively, and make waiting for the bus or subway — even just strolling down the street — a little more enjoyable.I look at it this way: If I see one street performer who doesn't do it for me, chances are that in another 30 seconds I'll come upon another who does.And I find plenty of other things in the urban landscape that annoy me far more than street performers: loud cellphone talkers, exhaust fumes, traffic jams, etc.

  7. Ari Herzog

    I find it slightly amusing that an advocate for street artists and buskers defines a person as a “living statue.” I know full well what Baird means, and for all I know that is a politically correct term, but it still reads humorously.

  8. DJS

    If you want to come to Boston for a suburban experience, spend an afternoon at the Pru.Plenty of room to park the SUV in the underground garage, lots of boutique shopping, nary a poor person in sight.And, hey, you’ll love the Food Court. You can even get a slice of genuine Regina’s pizza, without walking through Quincy Market (er, Faneuil Hall) and dodging all those street performers on your way to the North End.Wait a minute …Doug ShugartsBrookline

  9. Jody

    Ari: A Living Statue is a performance artist who stands completely still, like a statue.How is that politically correct for something else?

  10. Steven D

    the mayor is a n00b. – see ‘Jumble-trom wid jonfin papabomb’

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