Two Manhattan-based artists claim that law enforcement officers from the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation forced them out of Christopher Street Pier for exhibiting their work. Michael Alan Alien and Jadda Cat — life partners whose Living Installation project combines performance and mixed-media collage — were painting at Pier 45 in Hudson River Park on Tuesday, August 16, when two members of the Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP) asked them to remove signs showing their names, citing a law that prohibits soliciting on the premises.
“It was a really quiet afternoon there and we had our easel set up, sitting near the stairs where we always do, just minding our own business,” Alan told Hyperallergic. “I don’t understand why we were the focus. In my opinion, parks are meant for people to use, and not under such controlling stipulations. Drawing the water is not a crime.”
Cat and Alan, who is disabled and uses a cane to walk, said they agreed to comply with the PEP’s initial request. After deciding to leave the park, however, the officers allegedly escalated the situation by rushing them out and calling for backup. Alan claims that a mixture of uniformed and plainclothes New York Police Department (NYPD) officers arrived on the scene as they reached the exit and trailed them for several blocks. The NYPD did not immediately respond to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.
Based in the West Village, Alan and Cat have put on Living Installation exhibits and performances in parks around the city for years, but this incident has given them cause for concern regarding censorship and policing. A video posted on TikTok shows Alan’s easel with a small label affixed to the top that displays his name and a QR code linking to his Instagram page. According to Alan, who claims he never sells art outside a gallery setting, the officers said they could no longer display work at any city park.
The two artists lamented that other NYC Parks employees have expressed appreciation for their work in the past, but that this felt like a “full 180.”
“We are always very aware of where we open our easel and make sure we do not have any signs or bother anyone,” Cat said.
In a statement emailed to Hyperallergic, an NYC Parks spokesperson denied that the PEP officers followed Alan and Cat within the boundaries of Hudson River Park and referenced section §1-05b2 of its Rules & Regulations, which specifically prohibits the sale of art outside of designated areas and posted times.
“We support expressive matter vendors in parks, following long-standing related rules,” the statement said. “The artist had multiple artworks placed on the ground with barcodes attached to them at Pier 45 at Hudson River Park, and their easel was blocking the pedestrian path. Our PEP officers’ first course of action is to educate parkgoers to our rules; if not followed, the next step would be to issue a summons, and only in extremely rare circumstances would we effectuate an arrest.”
In recent months, Mayor Eric Adams has cut funding to the Parks department while raising the NYPD’s budget, resulting in overly policed parks and maintenance staff deficits. On top of that, laws around graffiti and public art-making have long contradicted the city’s efforts to foster an inclusive community, with local artists frequently facing arrests and other legal issues just for displaying their work outdoors.
For Alan, New York’s increasingly policed public spaces paint a sorry picture for the city’s artists.
“We spend so much money to be here, and yet we end up running from what our taxes are funding,” he said. “Nobody wants to get arrested or chased for doing what they love.”